MLK Memorandum on SCLC Direct Action Plans



In this confidential memorandum, Dr. King outlines SCLC’s direct action program for Birmingham, Alabama and Danville, Virginia. For each community, he states the challenges, defines goals, and then provides detailed steps to be taken and also staff assignments. He promises to outline his plan for Montgomery, Alabama in a few days.

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MLK Memorandum on SCLC Direct Action Plans
Transcripts & Translations


[Page 1] Confidential memorandum From: Martin L[uther] King Jr. [Crossed out: To: Executive Board] Re: Direct Action in Birmingham [Crossed out: at] Danville and Montgomery. At the present time SCLC's [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] direct action program will be centered in three communities - Birmingham, Montgomery, and Danville Virginia. Below I would like to outline a plan of action for each of these communities. [Underlined: Birmingham] It is my considered opinion we cannot leave the Birmingham situation until we emerge with a clear out victory. Birmingham represents the watershed of the non-violent revolution, and it would be a great setback for the whole movement if we fail to sustain the victory achieved last spring. Two developments have [Inserted text: greatly] complicated the situation in Birmingham, and necessitated a new [Crossed out: MS: illegible] action program for the community. The first [Crossed out: MS: illegible] problem grew [Inserted text: out] of the failure of the merchants to carry out every aspect of the agreement hammered out on May tenth. It must be said that they [Page 2] have carried out all of the agreements with reference to desegregating their facilities. But they have backed up on their promise to hire Negro clerks. This means that some pressure tactic will have to be brought to bear an the merchants to dramatic this broken promise. The second development that greatly complicated the issue in Birmingham was the violence and terror that accompanied the integration of the public schools, and the brutal and [Crossed out: MS: illegible] shocking murder of the six [Crossed out: MS: illegible] youngster on that unforgettable Sunday in September, this terrible violence motivated in part by the irrational demorargic [demographic] of Governor Wallace, and generated a sense of hopelessness [Inserted text: and frustration] in large [Crossed out: MS: illegible] [Inserted text: segments] of the Negro community. So [Crossed out: the] [Inserted text: our present] job in Birmingham is threefold: (1) We must put pressure on the merchants to carry out all aspect of the agreement. (2) We must press [Crossed out: MS: illegible] the city council [Crossed Out: fast] [Inserted text: and Mayor] to make immediate good faith steps [Crossed out: MS: illegible] to restore a sense of hope and protection with Negro community. (3) We must keep alive the great hope that Birmingham brought to Negroes all over the nation by making it palpable clear that we are still on the job in Birmingham, and will remain [Crossed out: MS: illegible] in an determination to see conditions changed for the better. [Page 3] [Underlined: Birmingham Master Plan] The one thing that the city can do to demonstrate a modicum of good faith is to announce immediately that it will hire Negro policemen. We cannot settle for less than this. The threat of the resumption of demonstration in Birmingham unless Negro policemen are hire[d] may be the "shock treatment" that will cause the city council and Mayor to see the urgency of the situation. In spite of cries of "we refuse to act with guns at our heads" the fact remains that the city does not want to see demonstrations renewed, if for no other reason [Crossed out: that] than that the [Inserted text: cities] economy can't afford it. I must hasten to say that I would hope that demonstrations will not have to be resumed in Birmingham. If they are resumed they will be effective only if they are bigger and more determined than before. This would be no minor undertaking. The other serious problem that we would confront in Birmingham would be securing funds for bail bonds. At present some $400,000 are tied up in cash and property bonds. This means that all available resources are pretty well [Crossed out: MS: illegible] [Page 4] [Crossed out: up] [Inserted text: exhausted.] So we must realistically recognize that demonstrations must be an absolute last [Crossed out: resot] [Inserted text: resort] on our part. Our [Crossed out: judiciousness] challenge now is to be ingenious enought [enough] to kept the treat of demonstrations alive [Crossed out: and yet constable find face] so as to give the local and national public a picture of our determination and continued militancy and yet constantly find face saving retreats in order to avoid demonstrations if possible. Step 1: President of SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] should go into Birmingham on Monday Oct[ober] 7 accompanied by at least six staff member[s] to assess the situation and confer with Shuttlesworth and associates. A well thought out statement should be drawn up clearly stating our case and the need for Negro policemen. In order to express the firce [fierce] urgency of the moment the statement [Crossed out: MS: illegible] should say that if a certain number of Negro policemen are not hired in two week[s] we will have no alternative but to resume demonstrations. (This step has been taken) Step 2: Begin workshops on non violence to train a basic core of people in case demonstrations are necessary. These workshops with [Page 5] be conducted by James Bevel and Dorothy Cotton. Step 3: President return to Birmingham Monday, Oct[ober] 14 to reassess situation. He will be accompanied by Bernard Lee, Andrew Young and C.T. Vivian. If city has announced that it will hire Negro policemen we will announce that things seem to be moving in the right direction and that we will withhold demonstrations for this period. If the city has not announced by this time we may consider some type of conciliatory statement commending the many groups in the city that have called for this hiring of Negro policemen, and say to the city, "since you consider our two week deadline an arrogant threat, we will reverse the question by asking you to set a time when you will hire Negro police." This approach will through then on the defensive with no excuse, and it will say to the community that we bent over backwards to avoid demonstrations. Step 4: I return to Birmingham Monday Oct[ober] 21 accompanied by them SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] staff members. If the city has not yet announced that [Page 6] it will hire the Negro policeman, Fred and I will announce in a press conference Tuesday morning that we have no alternative but to demonstrate. We will not [Crossed out: at the date] give the press the exact date that demonstrations will begin. Step 5: Have at least a dozen SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] staff members, [Inserted text: above: to be in': headed by Wyatt [Tee] Walker] to be in Birmingham by Wednesday Oct[ober] 23. They should begin, along with Fred and me, a ten day intensified program of "educational direct action." this would include flooding the white community with literature, stand-ins in white houses, stores, churches etc seeking conferences with occupants to discuss meaning of the movement. Step 6: Fred, Ralph and I would touch groups in New York, Chicago, and possibly Los Angeles to mobilize national support and request bond money. Step 7: Fred, Ralph, Wyatt, and I will work out a set of demands to be presented to the central committee by Oct[ober] 30. If we reach this point our demands will naturally be greater the Negro policemen. [Page 7] Step 8: Demonstration should begin on the streets of Birmingham no later than Friday Nov[ember] 1. Thes[e] demonstrations should be varied (marches to city hall, picketing in front of stores, kneel ins at churches, etc) If things are pretty well cleared up in Birmingham after step four we will turn our [Crossed out: att] total attention toward Danville, Va [Virgina]. [Underlined: Danville Virginia] This community certainly merits our wholehearted attention. The arrogant refusal of the city officials to grand any of the demands of the Negro community is an affront to the whole civil rights movement. Our affiliate organization has done a courageous job there, but the magnitude of the problem now demands the staff resources of SCLC's [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] task force. Our affiliate in Danville [Crossed out: MS: illegible] has expressed great sympathy with the [Page 8] deliver [Inserted text: above 'SCLC': the] SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] confronts because of the lopsided situation in Birmingham, and understand that our full scale participation is Danville is [Crossed out: MS: illegible] contingent on the turn of events in that Alabama tro[u]ble spot. Of course, if we find it necessary to remain in Birmingham for a long period, [Crossed out: and] we will still supply Danville with staff and financial aid. If we can clear the waters in Birmingham without a direct confrontation SCLC's [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] sequence of activities in Danville will be as follows. Step 1: Three SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] staff members (C.T. Vivian, John Gibson, Harold Middlebrooks) will go into the community to begin laying groundwork for the future show down. They will meet with [Crossed out: small group in the] church groups, students and other in order to develop a genuine non-violent army. Step 2: On Oct[ober] 23 [Crossed out: MS: illegible] Andrew Young, James Bevel, and Dorothy Cotton will go into Danville to further inspire community and begin working with students for Birmingham like D-Day. [Page 9] Step 3: On Oct[ober] 28 Wyatt [Tee] Walker and four field secretaries will go to Danville. Wyatt will immediately [MS:illegible] out the total operation and set up the practical mechanics for action. Step 4: On Oct[ober] 31 I will enter Danvill[e] along with Ralph, Fred Shuttlesworth, [Crossed out: ten selected board member] ten board members who are available, ten field secretaries and field workers. Our first four or five days will be spent in mass meetings, attempts to negotiate, educational direct action as suggested by Andy Young in our atlanta meeting, and non-violent workshop. We should seek to [Crossed out: have] find at least 1000 local residents of Danville who will remain in jail at least ten days before starting our demonstrations. Step 5: Move out with demonstrations on Monday Nov[ember] 4 Step 6: Symbols should [Crossed out: go] lead demonstration by Wednesday Nov[ember] 9. Step 7: Religious leaders and celebrities [Crossed out: should] [Inserted text: above 'should': would] come to Danville ready for demonstration by Monday Nov[ember] 11. [Page 10] Step 8: [MS: illegible] forces for a nation wide and possibly a world wide boycott of Dankever Mill products. In a few days I will submit a separate memoranda on Montgomery.
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