One week before the presidential election, King announces that he has no plans to endorse a candidate but expresses gratitude for the Democratic nominee's concern about his imprisonment: “I hope that this example of Senator Kennedy's courage will be a lesson deeply learned.”1
I have been asked from many quarters whether it is my intention to endorse one of the presidential candidates. The organization of which I am president, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, from its inception and in its constitution has been non-partisan.2 Accordingly, as its titular head, I am unable to endorse a political party or its candidate.3 Moreover, the role that is mine in the emerging social order of the South and America demands that I remain non-partisan. This, devoid of partisan political attachments, I am free to be critical of both parties when necessary.4
But for fear of being considered an ingrate, I want to make it palpably clear that I am deeply grateful to Senator Kennedy for the genuine concern he expressed in my arrest. When reactionary forces sought to crush our movement for desegregation by methods so unjust and unwise that millions were inflamed with indignation, Senator Kennedy exhibited moral courage of a high order. He voluntarily expresses his position effectively and took an active and articulate stand for a just resolution. I hope that this example of Senator Kennedy's courage will be a lesson deeply learned and consistently applied by all as we move forward in a non violent but resolute spirit to achieve rapidly proper standards of humanity and justice in our swiftly evolving world.
I would also like to express my appreciation to Mayor Hartsfield for his constrictive leadership throughout this whole struggle. I have always argued that the silent multitude of the South, who sincerely want fair play to be the hallmark of our society, needed support and encouragement available only from its major leadership to enable them to give open expression to their belief. I consider that Mayor Hartsfield's action illustrates the soundness of this course.5 The best antidote to degeneration of conflict of opinion into maliciousness and violence is statesmanlike, firm, expressions of the moral issues giving active support to proper resolution.
This is not the time to look back, but to look forward. I am full of hope for the future because of the goodwill and concern shown by so many people in Georgia and all over the country.
Now let us use this period for genuine negotiations so that Atlanta can take a step forward toward the society of “wisdom, justice and moderation” which the Seal of the State of Georgia and the Constitution of the United States promised.
1. This statement was distributed at an afternoon press conference (John Britton, “King Not Backing Either Candidate,” Atlanta Daily World, 2 November 1960). Just prior to the election, Kennedy supporters in Philadelphia produced a pamphlet aimed at black voters that featured positive statements on Kennedy from King, King Sr., Coretta King, Ralph Abernathy, and Gardner Taylor. The pamphlet quoted Abernathy: “It is time for all of us to take off our Nixon buttons.” King, Sr. acknowledged that he had been planning to vote against Kennedy “because of his religion” but had decided that “now he can be my President, Catholic or whatever he is” (Freedom Crusade Committee, Pamphlet, “The Case of Martin Luther King,” 27 October–7 November 1960). For more on King, Sr.'s support of Kennedy, see King to Ray A. Burchfield, 5 November 1960, pp. 542–544 in this volume.
2. SCLC's constitution does not refer to the organization's nonpartisan status but states that SCLC is a charitable organization with an orientation toward “improving the Civic, Religious, Economic, and Cultural Conditions in the South and in the Nation” (SCLC, “Constitution and by-laws,” November 1958).
3. Three days before the election, King's secretary Dora McDonald responded to Luvenia Springfield's 18 October request for advice on the “best” way to vote. McDonald acknowledged that as SCLC's president King “does not publicly endorse any candidates for political office” but privately “Dr. King intends to support Senator Kennedy—feeling that he has the best program for the hour” (McDonald to Springfield, 5 November 1960).
4. In response to a 1 November letter from Emory University theology professor Claude Thompson, King reiterated his nonpartisanship: “While I felt compelled to thank Senator Kennedy for his call to my wife and other expressions of concern, I wanted to make it clear that this should not be construed in any way as an endorsement” (King to Thompson, 5 November 1960).For King's political positions during the 1956 presidential campaign, see King to Viva O. Sloan, 1 October 1956, and King to Earl Kennedy, 30 October 1956, in Papers3:383–384 and 408–409, respectively.
5. King refers to the thirty-day “sit-in truce” arranged by William B. Hartsfield to secure the release of the student protesters arrested in late October. On 22 November, Hartsfield reported that the merchants were still unwilling to desegregate their lunch counters. The students granted the merchants an extension, but talks fell apart on 24 November and the protests resumed (“Hartfield Wins New Sit-In Truce,” Atlanta Constitution, 23 November 1960, and “Truce Talk on Sit-Ins Canceled,” Atlanta Constitution, 29 November 1960).
MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.