852 RARE: A Letter from Martin Luther King, Jr.

In April 1962, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a letter to Lloyd Garrison (HLS ’22) asking him to join the board of a new organization: the Gandhi Society for Human Rights.  Though the collection of Garrison’s papers, held by the library, does not provide evidence of further correspondence between the two men, it is doubtful that this was the first time these two leaders in the civil rights movement had communicated. Garrison, the great-grandson of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, carried on the family tradition of advocating for equal rights for all through his involvement with the National Urban League and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.   It was his involvement with the Taconic and Field Foundations and the Potomac Institute in Washington that led him to decline King’s offer, citing that his work with these granting foundations would be of greater use to the Gandhi Society as it would be a likely applicant for funds.

Letter to Lloyd K. Garrison from Martin Luther King, Jr., April 24, 1962. From the Lloyd K. Garrison Papers, box 2, folder 14.

The Gandhi Society for Human Rights got off the ground in May 1962, just a month after King wrote to Garrison.  In his speech to the gathered distinguished board members, King cited the significance of 1962 being 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and of Henry David Thoreau’s death.  Thoreau’s philosophy of civil disobedience inspired Mahatma Gandhi, who, in turn, greatly inspired King. In his inaugural address, King carried on Thoreau’s message throughout the speech, closing with the message:

All of the armies of the earth – all of the parliaments – all of the presidents, prime ministers and kings – are not stronger than one single moral idea which tenaciously demands fulfillment.  That fulfillment will come because from the first day an American farmer shouldered a musket for liberty, to this day, a national character was being formed, which could grow only in if lived in a climate of decency and fair play.  That fulfillment will come because America must do it to remain American in the next 100 years (Gandhi Society for Human Rights Address by MLK, Thursday, May 17, 1962).

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