As president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), Mason informs King of the upcoming Mary McLeod Bethune Commemoration Week and its culminating conference of African-American women leaders on 26 May.1 The NCNW, founded by Bethune in 1935, was the first national coalition of African-American women’s organizations. Mason requests the names of the women arrested in the bus boycott so that the council can invite them to the conference as special guests. On 7 May King’s secretary, Maude L. Ballou, replied with the addresses of Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Euretta Adair, Jimmie Lowe, and Irene West; on 26 May Parks spoke at the conference.2
Rev. M. L. King, Jr.
309 South Jackson Street
Dear Mr. King:
The National Council of Negro Women will observe Mary McLeod Bethune Commemoration Week, May 18 to 26, 1956. We believe that Mrs. Bethune’s friends will welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to the creative power and influence of her life. The climax of this observance will be a One-Day Conference of Negro women leaders at the Hotel Statler in Washington, D.C. on May 26. The heads of Negro women’s national organizations and individual women leaders in sunday fields will be invited to participate.
The purpose is to discuss the impact of a changing world on women’s organizations politically, socially and economically, with the hope that organizations and individuals will be challenged to review and reevaluate their programs; adopt new objectives, if warranted, and finally to be stimulated to take whatever action is called for to meet the unmet needs of this scientific era. We are distressingly aware of the fact that this one day is scarcely sufficient to explore each topic as thoroughly as it deserves but our hope is that the conference will point the way in providing markers for other such meetings by each organization at gradd root levels.
We would like to invite as our special guests the Negro women who were arrested in the bus boycot in Montgomery and would be pleased if you would furnish the names and addresses of these women. An early reply would be appreciated.
[signed] Vivian C. Mason
Mrs. William T. Mason
1. Vivian Carter Mason (1900-1982), born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, received her B.A. (1921) from the University of Chicago. Mason served on the national board of the YWCA and as president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1953 to 1957. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), a pioneering African-American educator, was born in Mayesville, South Carolina, and graduated from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (1895). In 1936 President Roosevelt appointed Bethune director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, the highest federal office then held by a black woman.
2. National Council of Negro Women, press release, Leaders Conference Held 26 May, May 1956. Euretta Adair, a prominent member of the Women’s Political Council, belonged to the MIA’s inner circle, serving on the finance and strategy committees. Jimmie Lowe was a member of the city’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Irene West (1892-1975), a graduate of Alabama State College who also attended Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes, was, along with her husband, dentist A. W. West, active in civil rights groups, including the NAACP. She served on the MIA executive board and was a member of the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and treasurer of the Women’s Political Council. Adair, Lowe, and West were indicted by the Montgomery court grand jury for participating in the bus boycott. Adair and Robinson were among those invited to speak on 25 March at an NCNW event in Washington to raise funds for the MIA (Mason to King, 9 and 15 March 1956).
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.