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To Warren Olney III

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Montgomery Improvement Association)
September 17, 1956
Voter registration


Olney replied to King's letter on 2 October. 1

Honorable Warren Olney III
Assistant Attorney General
Criminal Division
United States Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Olney;

This is to acknowledge receipt of your very kind letter of September 7. We are very happy to know of your concern with alleged denials of the right to vote on the ground of race or color in the State of Alabama. Enclosed you will find material to give concrete proof of the assertion that Negro citizens of Alabama face insuperable difficulties in attempting to gain the ballot. You will find enclosed a survey of voting practices in the State of Alabama made by the Southern Regional Council.2 This is the most authentic study that has been made in this area in the last few months. Also enclosed is a list of all of the counties in the State of Alabama designating the number of white voters and the number of Negro voters. You will notice that in several counties there is not a single Negro voter. In most of these counties the Negroes outnumber the whites two or three to one. In one county, namely, Macon County, the officials of the state have absolutely refused to appoint a registration board simply because a number of Negroes sought to become registered voters.

We would appreciate your looking into this matter immediately. It is my conviction that foremost among the civil rights of citizens in a Democracy is the right to participate in the government through free exercise of the franchise. If the Federal Government does not step in to assure this right, it will probably never be given.

Sincerely yours,
M. L. King, Jr.,


cc: Honorable Herbert Brownell, U.S. Attorney

1. See pp. 386-387 in this volume.

2. King enclosed a report entitled “Registration of Negro Voters in Alabama in 1954,” written in 1956 by James E. Pierce, research secretary of the Alabama State Coordinating Association for Registration and Voting in Birmingham and member of the MIA executive committee. Pierce recounted some of the difficulties encountered by African Americans while attempting to register and surveyed voter registration numbers for Alabama counties. The report was commissioned by the Southern Regional Council, an Atlanta-based interracial organization that sought to improve southern race relations. It was the parent body of the Alabama Council on Human Relations and other state councils.


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