This letter found inside a dictionary purchased at an estate auction in Kalamazoo Michigan belonged to a professor at Western Michigan University. The letter is from Martin Luther King Jr detailing his work and asking for help from “all decent Americans.” He is seeking donations to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and their work for civil rights in the south.
A “NIGHTMARE OF STATE POLICE STUPIDITY AND BRUTALITY”… When even a segregationist newspaper, the Montgomery, Alabama Journal, describes the clubbing and shooting of Negroes in Marion, Alabama in these horrified terms, the consciences of all Americans should be equally aroused.
In Selma, Alabama less than 350 Negroes are registered to vote out of 15,000 who are eligible – despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet, 3500 were swiftly arrested when they attempted to exercise their constitutional rights.
Apart from voting rights, merely to be a person in Alabama is not easy. When reporters asked Sheriff Clark if a woman defendant was married, he replied, “She’s a nigger woman and she hasn’t got a Miss or a Mrs. in front of her name.” When one of our SCLC staff, a minister under arrest, was taken to the hospital with a raging fever he was shackled to the bed with medieval leg irons.
These are some of the unbearable conditions which compel us to continue our demonstrations in Selma and elsewhere. Human rights are not going to be won in the deep South unless we tirelessly fight for them, no matter what the cost to us in money, in toil and in blood.
In the past four years, despite towering obstacles, the Negro vote in the South has been doubled. This achievement, simple to express in words, is an epic of heroic struggle. Tens of thousands of registration workers endured long weary days and nights to make it real. They worked with the knowledge that they might meet a grisly death around any corner.
Now that this is done we must begin again because, in concert with other organizations, we must double the vote once more. Only then will we have the political strength and representation to curb the injustices afflicting the lives of millions of Negroes.
We need the help of all decent Americans. Our organization, SCLC, is not only working in Selma but in dozens of other closed Southern communities. In this period we have maintained a full-time staff of 32 in Alabama alone. In addition to the usual expenses, we have met such costs as hospital bills and emergency aid to people fired from their jobs. At the same time, our
self-help projects are operating in South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and other states. Our people are willing to work, to sacrifice, to be jailed when necessary – but their income, normally meager, is cut off in crises. Your help can make a difference. It can be a message of unity which the thickest jail walls cannot muffle.
With warmest good wishes,
Martin Luther King, Jr.