C.L.R. James on Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 20, 2020

At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers his first national address, "Give Us The Ballot," on May 17, 1957 (Photo: Bob Henriques)

Introduction by Scott McLemee

The Caribbean writer and revolutionary C.L.R. James and his family hosted Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife in London in 1957. The following day, James wrote an account of their discussion that circulated among his comrades in Correspondence, a small Marxist group in the United States that published a newspaper of the same name. Much of the text is self-explanatory, but it is worth clarifying a few references and matters of context first…

A visit with Martin Luther King, Jr.
C.L.R. James, March 25, 1957

C.L.R. James

Yesterday the Rev. Luther King and his wife had lunch with us and stayed here from 12.30 until nearly 5 p.m. … After about two hours of general conversation, Luther King and his wife began to speak about the events in Montgomery, Alabama. I shall include a chapter on their experiences in the book on Ghana, and as I give you an account here of what he said, I shall introduce one or two parallels from the Ghana experience. The more I look at this the more I see that we are in the heart of a new experience which demands the most serious analysis.

One Thursday, on a day in December, a woman was arrested for traveling on the bus in a seat reserved for white people. In Montgomery, Alabama. The woman resisted, and to this day she says she does not know why she did. Thousands of Negroes had obeyed the regulations for many years. A local trade union leader went down and bailed her out and called up Dr. King, suggesting that they should "do something." It was the kind of statement that is made a hundred times a month in various parts of the South whenever one of these outrages takes place. This time, however, King called up a few of the "better" class Negroes and parsons in the community and they called a meeting for the Friday. About 60 of them, upper class Negroes, got together and they decided to call for a boycott. The idea was not entirely new, because some months before, a girl of 15 had defied the bus regulations and people had spoken of the necessity of doing something and had talked about the boycott, but it passed, as so many of these things pass. They decided to call for the boycott and started off at once to inform people by phone. They also prepared a document telling the people not to travel on the buses from Monday morning. The news spread, and on the Monday morning there began one of the most astonishing events in the history of human struggle. The Negro population of Montgomery is about 35,000. From the Monday morning and for about one year afterwards, the percentage of Negroes who boycotted the buses was over 99%. The Commissioner of Police and the head of the Bus Company have stated that never on any day did more than 35 people ride the buses…

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