Lot 237

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Martin Luther King Jr.
[Montgomery, AL], November 13, 1958
MLK, Jr. "As a Negro I have special concern with…Soviet theory" Re: Future Soviet Union Trip While Recuperating From Stabbing
A 2pp typed letter boldly signed by Baptist pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) as "Martin L. King, Jr." on the second page at lower right. The signature in blue ink measures 4" x 1.5" alone. November 13, 1958. [Montgomery, Alabama.] On watermarked stationery with "Martin Luther King, Jr. / Dexter Ave. Baptist Church / 454 Dexter Avenue / Montgomery, Ala. / Amhurst 3-3970" embossed letterhead. Expected wear including flattened transmittal and corner folds with a few extra wrinkles, and a stapled upper left corner. Isolated clerical smudges and discolored spots, else near fine. 8.5" x 11."

Dr. King, then pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, wrote this letter to Dr. Darrell Randall (1916-2008) regarding possible plans in early 1959 for a side trip to the Soviet Union after visiting India. Dr. Randall worked at the United Nations as the associate executive director of the Department of International Affairs for the National Council of Churches (NCC) between 1958-1961. The NCC was an organization of multiple faith groups of evangelical, mainline Protestant, African-American, and Eastern Orthodox orientations that had been established in 1950.

In this letter, Dr. King outlines six reasons for wanting to travel to the Soviet Union: a desire to visit one of the globe's "leadership centers" where decisions were made; a desire to gather firsthand information and impressions; a desire to investigate why Soviets, despite state-sponsored atheism, were still religious; a desire to collaborate with Soviet Baptists; a desire to determine Soviet policy influences on people of color; and a desire to examine Soviet attitudes towards non-violence.

It is notable to mention that Dr. King was researching the Soviet Union trip less than two months after he survived an assassination attempt by letter-opener at a Harlem bookstore; indeed, he apologizes to Dr. Randall for the delay in communicating during his convalescence. While he was recuperating from the attack, then, Dr. King was eagerly looking into travel options. Possible financial support for the trip was expected from "Dr. Nelson of the American Baptist Convention." Dr. Reuben E. Nelson (1905-1960) was the General Secretary of the American Baptist Convention (ABC), a confederation of Baptist churches today known as American Baptist Churches USA. Dr. King was optimistic because the budget for such a trip was modest; a 10-day trip for 3 people (King, his wife Coretta, and his secretary) would cost approximately $2,000.

Dr. King wrote to Dr. Randall in part:

"As I remember, you mentioned that Dr. Nelson of the American Baptist Convention had expressed great interest in this trip [to the Soviet Union], and also the possibility of providing some funds to meet the budget. Naturally, I was very happy to know this. My reasons for desiring to go to the Soviet Union may be stated as follows:

1. Manifold international policies emerge from a limited number of important world center. Events taking place in the United States, Russia, and India affect the life of every person on this earth. Increasingly, religious leaders… have come to see that firsthand investigation in these important centers is an integral part of their ability to exercise their leadership responsibilities.

2. In the coming period when travel to the Soviet Union is more usual, I believe the American people will expect committed leaders to get information by serious personal inquiry rather than to rely upon secondary sources…To do this it is necessary that personal contact be established so that both the good and the destructive elements and trends can be illustrated, analyzed and understood.

3. Among some of the more specific lines of inquiry I wish to pursue are those which would illuminate the reasons for the continued existence of religious conviction among millions of Soviet citizens, all of whom have been subjected to varying degrees of oppression and discouragement by powerful agencies of propaganda and anti-religious education…

4. As a Baptist I am especially interested to be in contact with the large number of practicing Baptists within the Soviet Union.

5. As a Negro I have special concern with the influence that Soviet theory and practice have had upon the millions of colored peoples who populate the less industrially developed areas of the world…

6. As one who attempts to adhere to a non-violent philosophy I am anxious to experience the reaction of Soviet officials and people to those of us who hold to the view that peace and justice are possible to the degree that the world uncompromisingly embraces the Judeo-Christian ideals…

I certainly hope that something can be worked out. I realize that this is asking a great deal, and if it is not possible, I can thoroughly understand… I will look forward to hearing from you…"

Three weeks later, in early December 1958, Dr. King's secretary released a statement that the Baptist minister was considering a visit to the Soviet Union. News agencies speculated as to whether Dr. King's visit would be in an official capacity, or undertaken as a private citizen. Dr. King left New York on February 3, 1959, traveling via Paris and Switzerland to India. While in India, Dr. King learned more about the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, the man who so strongly influenced his own belief in non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. Instead of continuing on to the Soviet Union, Dr. King returned to the United States directly after.

Ultimately, Dr. King decided to scrap his Soviet Union plans for almost as many reasons as initially having wanted to go. The pastor's health was a concern, as was continued racial unrest in the American South. In a March 23, 1959 letter written to Dr. Reuben E. Nelson, whose American Baptist Convention had pledged $900 towards King's Soviet Union itinerary, King explained other reasons for abandoning the trip. He felt uncomfortable traveling there without having first established meaningful connections with Soviet Baptists. He had concluded that it was the "wrong time for me to go," and that a trip to the Soviet Union "would have taken on too many political connotations." (For more information, please consult the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project.)

Dr. King's decision proved to be the right one, especially when considering that he was actively investigated by the FBI's COINTELPRO bureau for possible Communist associations and activities after 1963. A 1958 trip to the Soviet Union, if it had been undertaken, would have precipitated such surveillance much sooner. In November 1964, Dr. King was rumored to have been invited to the Soviet Union by Communist officials, but the minister, by way of spokesman Rev. Ralph Abernathy, denied the allegation. Even without traveling to the Soviet Union in 1958 or in 1964, Dr. King's political views engendered suspicions of Communism.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


  • 8.5" x 11"
  • Artist Name:
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Medium:
  • TLS

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