Fauntroy, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., recalls the ''lasting effect" of King's 1953 visit to his alma matter, Virginia Union University. He also proposes linking his organizing efforts with those of SCLC: "Our Washington experience indicates that after desegregation we must be prepared to combat . . . attempts to make Negro life in the New South but a replica of life in the massive racial ghettos that dot the North." 1 In his 18 June reply, King indicated that Fauntroy might serve "a most meaningful role" in SCLC, and the following year he appointed him a regional representative of SCLC.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
193 Boulevard, N.E.
Dear Dr. King:
It was indeed a pleasure to see and hear you in Petersburg last week.2 Your mention of the Interseminary Conference at Virginia Union in 1953 brought to mind the lasting effect your visit had upon me, then a sophomore at Union, when you spent that weekend with us in our guest suite.3
I recall quite vividly two sermons you shared with us then: one, a very humorous caricature on the subject "Is"; the other, Howard Thurman's treatment of the story of Elijah at Mt. Horeb as illustrating the "quiet power of love." 4 For months after you left, the latter was the subject of some of the most fruitful periods of meditation that I have ever spent. Its message became the sounding board against which all of my later exposure to theological thought was tested. When first I heard your name mentioned in connection with the Montgomery boycott, I thanked God that He had placed in that crisis the man with the message for our time.
I have been interested in talking to you about the situation here in Washington because I think it is a harbinger of the kind of challenge the Negro must be prepared to meet in other Southern cities as they become ostensibly desegregated. After our emancipation nearly 100 years ago came the Reconstruction Era with its carpetbag exploitation of the Negro situation that resulted in the yoke of segregation from which we are only now beginning to emerge (c.f. Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream, chp. on "The Bargain").5 Our Washington experience indicates that after desegregation we must be prepared to combat equally as sinister attempts to make Negro life in the New South but a replica of life in the massive racial ghettos that dot the North where self perpetuating sub-cultures are developed which then become formidable barriers to first class citizenship. I wish I could go into details here.
We are trying to develop in D.C. a kind of organization which may cope successfully with our problems in newly desegregated municipalities.6 The gray sheet gives you a bit of the background of our group, while the white sheet explains how we are attempting to organize. Also find enclosed a letter to the editor of our local Afro.
When you are in Washington again and can spare an hour or so, I would like very much to go over the picture in more detail with you. Affiliated with SCLC, our work might serve as a pilot project for meetin similar challenges later on in the newly desegregated cities of the South.
Regards and best wishes to Tee Walker when you see him again and may God continue to bless you in your work.
Very sincerely yours,
Walter E. Fauntroy
1. Walter E. Fauntroy (1933–), born in Washington, D.C., graduated from Virginia Union University in 1955 and received a B.D. (1958) from Yale Divinity School. The following year he was called to the pulpit of New Bethel Baptist Church. Fauntroy served as the District of Columbia's representative in Congress from 1971 until 1990.
2. Fauntroy refers to a meeting of the Petersburg Improvement Association on 1 June at which King was the featured speaker.
3. Fauntroy later recalled that King had spent the night in a dormitory guest room at Virginia Union. Wyatt Tee Walker had helped make the arrangements by contacting Fauntroy, who was then director of the freshman dormitory (Fauntroy, Interview with King Papers Project staff, 6 March 2002).
4. Cf. 1 Kings 19:8–18.
5. The chapter, "Two Men and a Bargain," describes a Reconstruction-era agreement reached between "Mr. Rich White" and "Mr. Poor White" to exclude "the Negro" (Smith, Killers of the Dream [New York: W. W. Norton, 1949]).
6. As part of his effort to form the "Citizen's Committee on Metropolitan Problems" for the District of Columbia, Fauntroy had written Ralph Abernathy on 17 February seeking information on the MIA's structure, objectives, and guiding principles.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.