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From Stanley D. Levison

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Author: Levison, Stanley D.

Date: January 8, 1959

Location: New York, N.Y. 

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Family

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Travels


In December 1956 King met New York attorney Stanley Levison, who would become one of his primary legal, financial, and tactical advisors. In a 15 December 1958 letter, King invited Levison to submit a bill "for all of the things that you are doing to lessen my load and also to save me money."1 In this reply Levison explains that his participation in the struggle for civil rights "is payment enough," and adds: "I am indebted to you, not you to me." King replied on 12 January.

Dear Martin:

Between holidays, colds, and Youth Marching for 1959, I've been dalayed in writing you about several matters, apart from those Bayard reports on to you.2

First, in your last letter you suggested that you should pay me for handling your taxes, the book, etc. It does you credit to make such a thoughtful offer but it is out of the question. I could wax philosophical on this subject at length but instead I'll put it simply. My skills to which you refer were acquired not only in a cloistered academic environment, but also in the commercial jungle where more violence in varied forms occurs daily than is found on many a battlefront. Although our culture approves, and even honors, these practices, to me they were always abhorrent. Hence, I looked forward to the time when I could use these skills not for myself but for socially constructive ends. The liberation struggle is the most positive and rewarding area of work anyone could experience. So the skills learned in basically destructive activity are employed here in constructive effort. That is payment enough for me and very seriously I am indebted to you, not you to me.

The national director of programs for the American Jewish Congress, Jules Schatz, (you met him in Miami), called me recently to say he was approached by the Canadian television network seeking your appearance on an interview program.3 They sai will pay a fee of $500 and travelling expenses. They would like any Tuesday in April. This is an important program covering all of Canada. I think it would enhance your prestige, offer an important outlet, and since the fee is a good one plus expenses, you should accept it if it is at all possible. Your appearance on this television network increases the possibility of other paid appearances on U.S. networks. This should be pinned down before you leave and since Schatz must give them an answer, I'd appreciate hearing from you quickly.4 No commission is involved for Schatz either from the network or from you.

I am also investigating another interesting project which has not yet jelled, but may shortly. This concerns the production of a recording to be distributed commercially through record shops nationally. The people discussing it are qualified to competently produce and distribute records in the best market areas. This can be another effective educational medium and would be handled on a commercial basis with proper royalties for you. We had talked of records when Bayard and I were in Montgomery last and if you remember, we spoke of you and Coretta being combined in an artistic presentation of readings and songs reflecting the Montgomery Story. I have not mentioned this earlier because I felt it was practical and useful only if a qualified firm could be involved to assure both a high standard product and distribution where it counts. The people presently interested seem to have both, so as soon as they are ready to talk concretely I'll advise you further.

I know how busy you've been since I've been working with Bayard on some of the aspects of your trip.5 I hope you're not overdoing it—but I guess you are.

Give my best to Coretta (The Woman Behind Martin Luther King, Jr.) Tell her if she keeps growing someone will some day an article on you entitled "The Man Behind Coretta Scott King".6

Warmest and best.

[signed] Stanley

P.S. Let me know as soon as possible on the Canadian engagement.

1. See Papers 4:545.

2. With Levison's assistance, pacifist Bayard Rustin organized the 1958 Youth March for Integrated Schools, an effort to pressure the Eisenhower administration to enforce the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation ruling in Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al. (347 U.S. 483). They also helped coordinate the 1959 march (for King's remarks, see Address at the Youth March for Integrated Schools on 18 April 1959, pp. 186-188 in this volume).

3. King spoke to the American Jewish Congress (AJC) in Miami Beach the previous spring (see King, Address Delivered at the National Biennial Convention of the American Jewish Congress, 14 May 1958, in Papers 4:406-410).

4. In his 12 January reply to Levison, King agreed to appear on a Canadian Broadcasting Company program. For a transcript of the television show, see King, Interview on "Front Page Challenge," 28 April 1959, pp. 191-194 in this volume.

5. Rustin and Levison helped arrange King's 1959 visit to India.

6. Levison refers to a profile on Coretta Scott King in the January 1959 issue of Ebony magazine ("The Woman Behind Martin Luther King," pp. 33-38).

Source: MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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