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Statement to Eugene Loe

Author: 
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Date: 
September 5, 1958
Location: 
Montgomery, Ala.
Genre: 
Speech
Topic: 
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Arrests
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views

Details

Following King's arrest on 3 September, Montgomery Recorder's Court judge Eugene Loe found him guilty of loitering and fined him $10 plus $4 in court fees.1 In the statement below King proclaims that he would rather be jailed than pay a fine for "an act that I did not commit and above all for brutal treatment that I did not deserve." While waiting to be transferred to jail, King was released when Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers paid the fine. Sellers later explained: "Recognizing King's tactics as just another publicity stunt intended to further his self-assumed role as a martyr, and also to boost the sale of his forthcoming book, I have elected to spare the taxpayers of Montgomery the expense of feeding and housing King during the next fourteen days." 2

Your Honor, you have no doubt rendered a decision which you believe to be just and right. Yet, I must reiterate that I am innocent. I was simply attempting to enter the court hearing of a beloved friend, and at no point was I loitering. I have been the victim of police brutality for no reason. I was snatched from the steps of the courthouse, pushed through the street while my arms were twisted, choked and even kicked. In spite of this, I hold no animosity or bitterness in my heart toward the arresting officers. I have compassion for them as brothers, and as fellow human beings made in the image of God. They were not totally responsible for their acts. These men, like all too many of our white brothers, are the victims of their environment—an environment blighted with more than 300 years of man's inhumanity to man as expressed in slavery and segregation.

Your Honor, you have found me guilty. Last night my wife and I talked and prayed over the course of action that I should take in the event that this should happen. It was our conclusion that I could not in all good conscience pay a fine for an act that I did not commit and above all for brutal treatment that I did not deserve. With all due respect to you and your court, I am inwardly compelled to take this stand.3

Let me assure you, your Honor, that my position at this point is not some histrionic gesture or publicity stunt, for moral convictions never stem from the selfish urge for publicity. Neither am I motivated by a desire to be a martyr, for without love even martyrdom becomes spiritual pride. My action is motivated by the impelling voice of conscience and a desire to follow truth and the will of God wherever they lead. Although I cannot pay the fine, I will willingly accept the alternative which you provide, and that I will do without malice.

I also make this decision because of my deep concern for the injustices and indignities that my people continue to experience. Today, in many parts of the South, the brutality inflicted upon Negroes has become America's shame. Last month, in Mississippi A sheriff, who was pointed out by four eye witnesses as the man who beat a Negro to death with a black jack, was freed in twenty-three minutes.4 At this very moment in this state James Wilson sits in the death house condemned to die for stealing less than two dollars.5 Can anyone at this court believe that a white man could be condemned to death in Alabama for stealing this small amount. The Negro can no longer silently endure conditions of police brutality and mob violence. We cannot do so because we are commanded to resist evil by God that created us all. Let me hasten to say, your Honor, that I am confident that Negroes will adhere to the same quality of Christian love and nonviolence to overcome these conditions that were used in our long bus protest. I am sure that there are thousands of white persons of goodwill throughout the South who in their hearts condemn mob violence and inhuman treatment of Negroes. I call upon these persons to gird their courage and speak out for law and order.

I also make this decision because of my love for America and the sublime principles of liberty and equality upon which she is founded. I have come to see that America is in danger of losing her soul and can so easily drift into tragic Anarchy and crippling Fascism. Something must happen to awaken the dozing conscience of America before it is too late. The time has come when perhaps only the willing and nonviolent acts of suffering by the innocent can arouse this nation to wipe out the scourge of brutality and violence inflicted upon Negroes who seek only to walk with dignity before God and man.

1. David Eugene Loe (1905-1996), a Montgomery native, became municipal court judge in the late 1950s, a post he held until his retirement in the late 1970s. As attorney for the City of Montgomery, he prosecuted Rosa Parks in the 1955 case that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott.

2. "Dr. King Fined $14; Official Pays Bill," New York Times, 6 September 1957.

3. The MIA newsletter reported that on 4 September King told his associates that "to accept a verdict of guilty and pay a fine . . . would be following a course of least resistance" and "would not exemplify his philosophy of non-Violent resistance, as exemplified by Gandhi." The following morning King and some associates met at Fred Gray's office. Before leaving for the courtroom King reportedly led them in a brief prayer, "while at that moment there lay behind him a bag of blood stained clothes belonging to a Negro man who had been severely beaten by Montgomery police" (MIA, Newsletter, 27 September 1958).

4. According to a newspaper account, the all-white jury in the manslaughter trial of Yalobusha County sheriff J. G. "Buster" Treloar deliberated for twenty-six minutes before finding him not guilty of beating black delivery man Woodrow Wilson Daniels on 21 June. Daniels, who had been jailed on charges of reckless driving and possession of whiskey, died from his injuries on 1 July ("Jury Out 26 Minutes; Acquit Miss. Sheriff," Tri-State Defender, 16 August 1958).

5. Wilson, a 55-year-old handyman, was sentenced to die for robbing $1.95 from an 82-year-old white woman at her home in Marion, Alabama; his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment ("Life Spared In $1.95 Case by Governor Folsom," Atlanta Daily World, 30 September 1958).

Source: 

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