For several years King had been involved in discussions with other Baptist ministers, including Kilgore and Gardner Taylor, about their dissatisfaction with the leadership of the National Baptist Convention.1 A month after their annual meeting, held in San Francisco in early September, King expresses his disgruntlement with the organization.2 Kilgore replied on 13 October suggesting that they immediately begin organizing against the convention’s president, J. H. Jackson: “Silence and inactivity at this time are but adding to the total climate of moral degeneracy in our Convention.”
Rev. Thomas Kilgore, Jr.
Friendship Baptist Church
144 West 131st Street
New York 27, New York
I am happy to know that Mrs. English will be able to study in Vienna this year, and I want to share in some little way.3 Enclosed you will find a check in the amount of $15.00. I am sorry that some heavy financial obligations at the present time stand in the way of my contributing more. As I said to you once before Mrs. English possesses a voice of rare quality and unusual beauty.
I missed seeing you in California at the convention. We must move Dr. Jackson in Philadelphia next year.4 It can be done through an organized effort. Philadelphia is a good setting and the time is right. We must get behind a man and do the job. That man is Gardner Taylor. We can no longer passively accept the moral degeneracy which has infiltrated the top echelon of our convention. Let us go on to victory in 1960.
Very sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.
1. For earlier accounts of the conflicts within the National Baptist Convention, see Introduction in Papers 4:17-18, and J. Pius Barbour to King, 3 October 1957, in Papers 4:281-283.
2. In an earlier letter King complained to theologian Howard Thurman, who had been unable to attend, about “the sometimes meaningless outbursts” at the San Francisco meeting (King to Thurman, 30 September 1959).
3. In a 22 September letter Kilgore had requested contributions to send Rose Battle English, a member of his congregation who had sung the national anthem at the 17 May 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, in Washington, D.C., to Vienna to study music. English thanked King for his contribution in a 12 January 1960 letter from Vienna.
4. At the Philadelphia convention in 1960, both Taylor and Jackson declared victory, and the contested presidency remained unresolved until 1961 when Taylor, King, and other dissident ministers disaffiliated from the National Baptist Convention and formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention (“Baptists in Convention, Name Two,” Baltimore Afro-American, 17 September 1960).
MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.