On 25 June Kilgore, pastor of Harlem's Friendship Baptist Church and director of the May 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage, asked King to speak to his congregation and pledged $1,000 to SCLC.1 In the letter below, King declines the invitation and suggests the need for new leadership in the National Baptist Convention.
The Rev. Thomas Kilgore, Jr
Thanks for your letter of June 25th inviting me to speak at Friendship on Sunday, October 26th, 1958.
I have checked my schedule and find that I have a previous commitment of long standing for that date. In the light of this, I must reluctantly decline your gracious invitation. Please know that I regret this very deeply. Were it not for this commitment, I would be more than happy to serve you.
I hope it will be possible to be with you at some other time.
I was overjoyed beyond the power of expression to know that you are raising one thousand dollars for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This will go a long, long way in assisting us in the work that is ahead for the Conference. We are making great strides. Our staff has now been employed with Rev. John M. Tilley and Ella Baker as Director and Associate Director, respectively. I see vast possibilities ahead for this organization and it certainly will be contributions like yours that will bring this potentiality into actuality.
I am always happy to hear of the great work that you are continually doing. You have my prayers and best wishes for continued success. Remember, we still have our eyes on you for Executive Secretary for the National Baptist Convention.2 Although things look a little dark at the Convention at this time, I believe in the next few years, we will see a new day and even a new administration.3
Very sincerely yours,
1.Thomas G. Kilgore, Jr. (1913-1998).
2.Kilgore was not elected to the post of executive secretary.
3.King refers to ongoing friction within the National Baptist Convention (for further discussion, see Introduction, pp. 17-18 in this volume).
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.