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Voter registration

To Simeon Booker

After reading an unfavorable article on SCLC in Jet, King called the magazine’s Washington bureau chief to rebut the charges.1 Following up in this letter, King asserts that SCLC's “aim is neither to grab headlines nor have a multiplicity of mass meetings” and notes that some members have “taken time out of extremely busy schedules to actually knock on doors” to encourage voter registration.

Johnson, Lyndon Baines

President Johnson’s five years in office brought about critical civil rights legislation and innovative anti-poverty programs through his Great Society initiative, though his presidency was marred by mishandling of the war in Vietnam. Though Martin Luther King, Jr., called Johnson’s 1964 election “one of America’s finest hours” and believed that Johnson had an “amazing understanding of the depth and dimension of the problem of racial injustice,” King’s outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War damaged his relationship with Johnson and brought an end to an alliance that had enabled major civil rights reforms in America (King, 4 November 1964; King, 16 March 1965).

Gomillion, Charles Goode

Educator and community activist Charles Gomillion worked at the Tuskegee Institute for more than 40 years. As president of the Tuskegee Civic Association, he worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to increase African American voter registration in the South. Gomillion was the lead plaintiff in the landmark 1960 civil rights case Gomillion v. Lightfoot, which led the Supreme Court to declare gerrymandering unconstitutional.

Council of Federated Organizations (COFO)

The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) was a coalition of national and regional organizations engaged in civil rights activities in Mississippi. Established in 1962 with the goal of maximizing the efforts of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the organization focused on voter registration and education. Under the leadership of SNCC activist Robert Moses, and staffed primarily by SNCC activists, COFO launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project in 1964. In describing the difficulties faced by COFO and Freedom Summer workers, Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “Our nation sent out Peace Corps Volunteers throughout the under-developed nations of the world and none of them experienced the kind of brutality and savagery that these voter registration workers have suffered here in Mississippi” (King, 22 July 1964).

Bond, Horace Julian

Student activist Julian Bond first met Martin Luther King in 1960 when he was a student at Morehouse College. The two became better acquainted when Bond joined the small staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which shared an office with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1966, when Bond was refused his elected seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, King preached against the legislature’s action and organized a march in support of Bond.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

In an 11 June 1963 speech broadcast live on national television and radio, President John F. Kennedy unveiled plans to pursue a comprehensive civil rights bill in Congress, stating, “This nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free” (“President Kennedy’s Radio-TV Address,” 970). King congratulated Kennedy on his speech, calling it “one of the most eloquent, profound and unequivocal pleas for justice and the freedom of all men ever made by any president” (King, 11 June 1963).

Borders, William Holmes, Sr.

Shortly before the Montgomery bus boycott ended, prominent Atlanta minister William Holmes Borders sent an encouraging letter to Martin Luther King, writing, “May God continue to bless you that you may reach higher heights. Your future is unlimited.” He continued, “There is no position in any church, religious body, University … which you could not fill” (Papers 3:485).

To Ramona Garrett

In his address at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell called for the development of a “third force” in politics to deal with racial injustice in the United States: “We meet here today in front of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial because we are getting more from a dead Republican than we are getting from a live Democrat or a live Republican. . . . It's time for we Negroes to bring a third force into the American political scene. I’m sick and tired of Democrat and Republican.


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