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From Stanley D. Levison

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Author: Levison, Stanley D.

Date: March 1, 1960 to March 31, 1960?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Labor Movement

Student movements


Levison reports on the progress of the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, a legal defense group formed in response to King's Alabama perjury indictment.1He also decries the recent statement of Thurgood Marshall, head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, that “the first stage of demonstrations should be ended” in favor of courtroom challenges.

Dear Martin,

Enclosed is a suggested draft for a fund appeal.2 It is somewhat long but I think the vital charcater of the moment will hold the attention of readers. Furthermore it is important that the meaning of the events be clearly spelled out. I have not made separate drafts for the churchs, directors and individuals because I think the one message is suitable f for all. If you feel a specific point needs to be made for the different groups it can be added as a sentence which you or Ralph [Abernathy] would better be able to compose than I.

We are inundated with tasks. To organize a new committee is a complex job, but simultaneously we are thrown into a series of fund raising projects each of which is complicated. However, the response is heartwarming. Harry Belafonte has stirred the cultural forces as never before and they should become a new and increasing source of strength.3 For the first time we have gotten the official leadership of the N.Y. Central Labor Council to come into the work with more than mere token endorsements of paper resolutions. Last week they had delivered to their meeting a full report of our Defense Committee with its objective of defending you, backing the students, and the S.C.L.C.4 The entire delegated body endorsed the report voted to stage a huge demonstration on May 17th in the garment center, and to raise funds through the unions.5 They are setting up a committee of their own to carry through these purposes. We are particularly encouraged because they appear willing to back up the method of going to the shops for individual collections. This means larger sums than we normally get from the union treasuries. I don’t think we will accomplish this easily but up to now we have never been able to get the officials to think this way. Too often they considered a fifty or one hundred dollar contribution as meeting the responsibility. With this new thinking we are starting down the right road.

All of this illustrats the point Bayard [Rustin] and I were attempting to make last week. This is a new stage in the struggle. It begins at the higher point where Montgomery left off. The students are taking on the strongest state power and demonstrating real will and deterima{i}n{a}tion. By their actions they are making the shadow boxing in Congress clear as a farce. They are by contrast exposing the lack of real fight that exists among allegedly friendly Congressmen and Presidential aspirants. And by example they are demonstrating the bankruptcy of the policy of relying upon the courts and legislation to acheive real results. The country is stirred by them and sickened by the feebleness of the foolishness in Congress.6 It is interesting and very significant that this weekend Thurgood Marshall has called a conference of lawyers in Washington and has been quoted as saying that the first stage of demonstrations should be ended and a new one in the courts now (is} to be developed.7 Characteristically, they want to give a tranquilizer or pacifier to the whole movement and send the people back to their ordinary preoccupations. More and more they are revealing themselves as gradualists in reality while they pretend to be uncompromising and firm. But they are not taking into account that people cannot and will not accept this policy. They are using up the good will past victories in the courts brought them, and increasingly crictism and cynicism about their motives is being expressed. It is not yet on a broad public scale because there is fear of appearance of disunity. But the clouds of distrust and opposition are gathering. Sooner or later their policy will have to change or their influence will sharply diminish and the true forces of struggle will move into effective leadership.

Please forgive this sloppy typting. I am doing this late at night at home and both the hour and my abilities are fighting me. Please be careful in copying my draft to see that it is checked for spelling. I learned how to write but neglected to learn how to spell. Love to Coretta and your family,

[signed] Stanley

1. A 3 March press release announced the formation of the committee and its plans to launch a “national fund-raising campaign” aimed at raising $200,000 to defend King and support SCLC’s voter registration drives in the South (Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, Press release, Committee to undertake fundraising campaign, 3 March 1960). In addition to Levison, the press release listed over forty other members including Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Gardner C. Taylor, Mordecai Johnson, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Lorraine Hansberry, Jackie Robinson, and Ruth H. Bunche (Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, Press release, “Statement on the indictment of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” 3 March 1960).

2. Levison likely enclosed an appeal for King’s legal defense that eventually appeared in the New York Times. The statement was endorsed by supporters of King, including SCLC ministers, black entertainers, and prominent liberals (see “Heed Their Rising Voices,” New York Times, 29 March 1960; see also Wofford to King, 1 April 1960, pp. 403-405 in this volume).

3. The committee was founded in late February in the New York apartment of Belafonte, who chaired the group’s cultural committee.

4. The Labor Council’s actions were reported in the 28 March minutes of the committee to defend Martin Luther King.

5. Among the speakers at the union-sponsored rally marking the sixth anniversary of the Brown decision were Morris Iushewitz, secretary of the New York Central Labor Council; Cleveland Robinson, secretary-treasurer of District 65 of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU); and David Livingston, president of District 65 (“15,000 Attend Garment Center Civil Rights Rally,” New York Times, 18 May 1960). Following the rally the committee sponsored a benefit at New York City’s 369th Armory. Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge emceed the event, which included performances by Belafonte, folk singer Odetta, and jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughn (“New Negro Is Key in Struggle,” New York Amsterdam News, 21 May 1960). The committee later reported that the benefit netted over $10,000 (A. Philip Randolph and Gardner C. Taylor, Press release, and Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, “Statement of income and expenditure for period ending 7/31/1960,” both dated 7 October 1960).

6. Levison refers to the filibuster of the 1960 civil rights legislation. For more on the filibuster, see Jacob K. Javits to King, 21 April 1960, pp. 439-440 in this volume.

7. The meeting was held 18-20 March at Howard University in order to discuss legal questions related to the arrests of student demonstrators. At the end of the three-day meeting, a news report quoted Marshall: “The right of protest is traditional, going back to dumping tea in Boston Harbor because we didn’t like certain things. These kids have a right to have their say. The right to carry a picket sign is the most precious right we have” (“NAACP Sits Down with the ‘Sit-Inners,'” New York Amsterdam News, 26 March 1960).

Source: MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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