"Statement to the Press at the Beginning of the Youth Leadership Conference"
Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Date: April 15, 1960
Location: Raleigh, N.C.
Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views
Over two hundred student and adult activists gathered at Shaw University for an Easter weekend youth conference to discuss the growing sit-in movement.1 King issued this statement at a press conference on the opening day of the meeting.2 Among his five suggestions for “a strategy for victory,” King recommends that the students form a permanent nonviolent organization to “take the freedom struggle into every community in the South without exception.”3 The following day, King addressed a mass meeting at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and reportedly characterized the student movement as “a revolt against those Negroes in the middle class who have indulged themselves in big cars and ranch-style homes rather than in joining a movement for freedom." 4 During the three-day conference, youth leaders voted to create the Temporary Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.5
This is an era of offensive on the part of oppressed people. All peoples deprived of dignity and freedom are on the march on every continent throughout the world. The student sit-in movement represents just such an offensive in the history of the Negro peoples’ struggle for freedom. The students have taken the struggle for justice into their own strong hands. In less than two months more Negro freedom fighters have revealed to the nation and the world their determination and courage than has occurred in many years. They have embraced a philosophy of mass direct nonviolent action. They are moving away from tactics which are suitable merely for gradual and long term change.6
Today the leaders of the sit-in movement are assembled here from ten states and some forty communities to evaluate these recent sit-ins and to chart future goals. They realize that they must now evolve a strategy for victory. Some elements which suggest themselves for discussion are: (1) The need for some type of continuing organization. Those who oppose justice are well organized. To win out the student movement must be organized. (2) The students must consider calling for a nation-wide campaign of “selective buying.” Such a program is a moral act. It is a moral necessity to select, to buy from these agencies, these stores, and businesses where one can buy with dignity and self respect. It is immoral to spend one’s money where one cannot be treated with respect.7 (3) The students must seriously consider training a group of volunteers who will willingly go to jail rather than pay bail or fines.8 This courageous willingness to go to jail may well be the thing to awaken the dozing conscience of many of our white brothers. We are in an era in which a prison term for a freedom struggle is a badge of honor. (4) The youth must take the freedom struggle into every community in the South without exception. The struggle must be spread into every nook and cranny. Inevitably this broadening of the struggle and the determination which it represents will arouse vocal and vigorous support and place pressures on the federal government that will compel its intervention.9 (5) The students will certainly want to delve deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence. It must be made palpably clear that resistance and nonviolence are not in themselves good. There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community. The tactics of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence may indeed become a new kind of violence.
1. King and Baker had issued the call for the meeting (Announcement, “Youth leadership meeting, Shaw University, Raleigh, N.C., 4/15/1960-4/17/1960,” March 1960; see also SCLC and Raleigh Citizens Association, Program, “Mass meeting featuring Dr. Martin Luther King," 16 April 1960, and SCLC, “Northern students and observers to Southwide Youth Leadership Conference, Shaw University, Raleigh, N.C.,” 22 April 1960).
2. On the back of King’s copy of this document was a list of five names, the last two of which—Elroy Embry of Montgomery and Paul LaPrad of Fisk University—were handwritten by King.
3. According to a newspaper account, King also explained that the protests were “a spontaneous movement without any national organization” (Guy Munger, “Students Begin Strategy Talks on Integration,” Greensboro Daily News, 16 April 1960).
4. Claude Sitton, “Negro Criticizes N.A.A.C.P. Tactics,” New York Times, 17 April 1960.
5. The students also voted that the temporary committee, composed of representatives from thirteen southern states and established student organizations, would be headquartered in Atlanta. King and James Lawson were to be “present in an advisory capacity” (Southwide Youth Leadership Conference, “Recommendations of the findings and recommendations committee,” 15 April-17 April 1960).
6. During the question and answer portion of the press conference, King elaborated on this point: “I’m not saying this brings about a cessation of legal activities. But the Negro students are saying, ‘We will not wait for long litigation . . . delaying tactics.’” He also contrasted the “non-creative sitdown in Congress” with the “creative sitdown by Negro students” (Munger, “Students Begin Strategy Talks“).
7.King explained that "if a store opens itself to the public, it is not private property in the sense that it may deny accommodations," and concluded: “We are not trying to put a store out of business. We are seeking to put justice into business” (Munger, “Students Begin Strategy Talks”).
8.At the weekend’s close, the coordinating committee adopted a number of resolutions, including one which read: “This conference recognizes the virtue of the movement and endorses the practice of going to jail rather than accepting bail” (Southwide Youth Leadership Conference, “Recommendations of the findings and recommendations committee,” 15 April-17 April 1960).
9.According to a press account, King elaborated on this point when he explained that he was not defining federal government intervention “in physical terms” but as providing “moral support to the movement” (“Sit-in Meeting Fights Erupt,” Nashville Tennessean, 16 April 1960).
Source: MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.