On 20 November 1960, Ebony managing editor Era Bell Thompson conducted a telephone interview with King on “current opinions regarding hell” and published his response in an article in the magazine's January 1961 issue.1
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Baptist, Atlanta. Says the man who has had his share of hell on earth: “I do not believe in hell as a place of a literal burning fire. Hell, to me, is a condition of being out of fellowship with God. It is man's refusal to accept the Grace of God. It is the state in which the individual continues to experience the frustrations, contradictions and agonies of earthly life. Hell is as real as absolute loneliness and isolation.”2
1. Thompson to King, 21 November 1960. The Ebony article included responses by other notable ministers such as Adam Clayton Powell, Gardner C. Taylor, Howard Thurman, Benjamin Mays, and J. H. Jackson.
2. Thompson's letter contained a longer version of King's reply that included his observation on the nature of heaven: “On the other hand, heaven is the state in which man finds himself in eternal
fri fellowship with God. It is a release from the trials and tribulations of life .... Heaven is as real as friendship or an idea” (King, Draft, What Happened to Hell? 21 November 1960).
Cst-MLK, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.