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To Theodore E. Brown

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: October 19, 1959

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Labor Movement

Voter registration


In this letter to Ted Brown, the assistant director of the AFL-CIO's civil rights department, King criticizes an article in Jet that described SCLC’s “clergy-backed Dixie vote campaign” as having made little progress, while trumpeting the NAACP’s efforts.1 King insists that the information is largely false and suggests it is part of an effort to divide SCLC and the NAACP: “There is nothing that arouses my ire more than those individuals in distant cities who will use the power of their pens to create jealouses, conflicts, and confusion.” He details SCLC's plans to “rise up more aggressively” and adds that he would “hate to feel that” former SCLC executive director “Rev. Tilley was behind the writing of this in any way.”2

Mr. Theodore E. Brown
815-16th Street, N.W.
Washington 6, D.C.

Dear Ted:

On returning to the office I found your letter of October 13, with the enclosed letter from Mrs. Margaret Bush Wilson.3 From your letter I am not clear on the question of whether you wrote Mrs. Wilson stating that it would not be possible for me to accept the invitation. As I said to you, I have a long standing commitment in Philadelphia on November 8, which makes it impossible for me to go to St. Louis. Please let me know whether you answered to that effect.

I am quite anxious to have the get together to discuss trade union cooperation with the program of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. At the present time I am making some arrangements to be in the New York area for a series of business discussions around the middle of November. This might be our best time to talk. I will let you know as soon as my schedule has been cleared.

If you have not read the Jet for this week, I wish you would look at the lead column of Ticker Tape U.S.A. I think it is very unfortunate that Mr. Booker would stoop to such tragic methods.4 First, almost everything he says in the article is false, and he did not take the time to consult with any officials of SCLC to corroborate his statements. Second, it gives the impression that the voting drive in the South is not going because Rev. Tilley left, when the actual fact is that Rev. Tilley was forced to resign by the Board because he was not producing. We were kind enough not to let this out to the public, and we said to Rev. Tilley that we would protect his name and reputation at every point. Third, the article says that we have only raised $25,000.00, and there is nothing further from the truth. Our financial statements will show that we have raised well over $25,000.00, and we are still raising fairly good money in the light of the fact that we have never really seriously developed a fund raising program. More than $3,000.00 was reported in the Columbia, South Carolina meeting, and I have just returned from Denver where more than a thousand dollars was raised for the Conference and I will go to Fort Worth, Texas where another thousand dollars is guaranteed. The fourth thing that is very bad in the column is a continuation of the diliberate attempt to divide the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP. One can easily see that the article leans toward justifying the NAACP and ridiculing the SCLC. Now the fact is that no organization has done enough in the area of registration and voting in the South. If we are honest and really concerned about solving the problem we will have to admit this. And if there is any comparison, I would venture to say that SCLC has done much more than the NAACP. I am convinced that if we are to solve our problems in the South, we need the cooperation and support of all agencies, particularly the press, and there is nothing that arouses my ire more than those individuals in distant cities who will use the power of their pens to create jealouses, conflicts, and confusion. Anybody knows that the NAACP cannot do this job alone, and this is true for many reasons. For instance, in Alabama there is not even an NAACP in operation, and the question is can we afford to wait and hold back the onward move of progress until the NAACP is restored.5 The job of registration and voting is so big that it will take the concerted effort of every organization. This is no time for small things and small actions. It is a time for positive, powerful, and determined cooperation.

In the Columbia meeting of SCLC we decided to do several things to expand the work of the organization. So instead of fading away as Mr. Booker implies in Jet, we are really planning to rise up more aggressively. We voted to enlarge our staff. We also voted to employ a person part-time in the area of public relations who can publicize the work of the organization. I have felt all along that that we have been weak in this area.

Well I guess I should close now and get on with some other important matters on my desk. I did not mean to burden you with this situation, but I felt that you might be interested in knowing the facts, and certainly Mr. Booker should be interested. At points the article gives the impression that there is an attempt to justify Rev. Tilley’s leaving. I would hate to feel that Rev. Tilley was behind the writing of this in any way.

Very sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.


1. “Ticker Tape U.S.A.,” Jet, 12 October 1959, pp. 10-11. Theodore E. Brown (1915-1983), born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, received a B.A. (1936) from Northwestern University and an M.O.C. (1944) from Harvard University. Brown worked as A. Philip Randolph’s administrative assistant from 1946 to 1956 before joining the AFL-CIO’s civil rights department. Brown was appointed secretary of the Negro American Labor Council in 1961. As president of the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa (1962-1968), Brown campaigned to bar American warships from refueling at South African ports. He later worked for the U.S. Department of State and the Agency for International Development. In the preface to Stride Toward Freedom, King acknowledged Brown’s “significant suggestions and real encouragement” (p. 11).

2. The Jet article featured a photo of Tilley and noted his departure from SCLC. For more on Tilley’s resignation, see King to Tilley, 3 April 1959, pp. 179-181 in this volume.

3. In a 13 October letter to King, Brown had enclosed a 29 September letter from Wilson, president of the St. Louis NAACP, in which she requested that Brown ask King to speak at their annual Freedom Fund Tea on 8 November.

4. King refers to Simeon Booker, Washington bureau chief for Johnson Publishing Co., publisher of Jet.

5. In June 1956, an Alabama circuit judge ordered the NAACP to cease operations within the state for the organization’s failure to comply with state law requiring organizations to properly register. In 1964, the Supreme Court overturned the Alabama court’s decision (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama Ex Rel. Flowers, Attorney General, 377 US. 288).

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

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