Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Shirttail Kin" discovered in papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes while researching my family history, I get this sense that some of the family members I am researching are a bit "Forrest Gumpish" - meaning they were ordinary people who did extraordinary things - or whose lives crossed paths with people whose names we recognize. There's one who flew with Wiley Post; another who hung out with presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.

Yesterday, an online search yielded what I found to be an extraordinary connection to 20th century American history. It is a letter written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dated 5 August 1958, Montgomery, Alabama to Dwight E Loder, a "shirttail" kin member of the family who was president of Garrett Biblical Institute located on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Loder had offered Dr. King a faculty position at the Institute and the letter from Dr. King is declining the offer.

The following are excerpts I found most interesting and with historical significance. The document is from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project.

". . .I feel a moral obligation to share with you the decision that I have presently made. As you know, I am deeply entrenched in the rising tide of racial conflict here in the deep South. My congregation and members of the community are also involved. And they look to me to guide them spiritually and otherwise, as they move with uncertainty through this maze of racial tension."

"I have a deep sense of responsibility at this point and feel, for the next few years at least, that my place is here in the deep South doing all in my power to alleviate the tensions that exist between Negro and white citizens. I have started on this challenging venture of love and non-violence, and I am all too aware of the fact that this philosophy has not been spread enough throughout the deep South. I am hoping by the Grace of God to be able to carry this approach far beyond the bounds of Montgomery, and this will take both time and hard work."

" Please give my best regards to Mrs. Loder. I certainly hope our paths will cross again in the not-too-distant future. Since meeting you and your charming wife I have come to admire you greatly. I hope this is the beginning of a friendship that will last over the years. Coretta sends her warm regards to both of you."

Source: the Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr, Volume IV January 1957 - December 1958

Putting this letter in historical perspective:

Letter was written in August, 1958

Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington was August 28, 1963.

Dr. King's was assassinated April 4, 1968.

Listen to Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech.

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