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MLK And Lillian Smith | AAIHS


MLK And Lillian Smith | AAIHS

Mayor Robert F. Wagner greets Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King at City Hall, New York City, New York World-Telegram/Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday October 16, 1960, three days before the October 19 Atlanta sit ins where Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested and jailed, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee concluded a three-day meeting at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Atlanta. Numerous individuals spoke that day, including Howard student and vice president of the National Student Association Timothy Jenkins and the chairman of the Atlanta Committee on the Appeal for Human Rights Lonnie King, delivering speeches to the almost 300 attendees at the conference. The meeting concluded with a keynote speech by Lillian Smith, a white, Southern woman who, since the early part of the twentieth century, spoke out extensively against racism in all its forms.  

That Sunday evening, Smith delivered her speech “Are We Still Buying a New World with Old Confederate Bills?” to an audience of mostly Black students. News reports about the event say about 50 white students attended, most from outside of the South, and Smith, early in her speech, tells those in attendance, “I regret that there are so few southern white students, as yet, working side by side with you; I am sorry they have not yet realized that segregation is their enemy also; that it harms their minds and souls as much as it does yours; that it blocks their freedom and their future as severely as it does yours.” 

Four years earlier, in March 1956, Smith and Martin Luther King, Jr. began corresponding. Smith wrote to him praising the Montgomery Bus Boycott and telling him, “I, too, am working as hard as I can to bring insight to the white group; to try to open their hearts to the great harm that segregation inflicts not only on Negroes but on white people too.” King replied to Smith in May, thanking her for the two letters she had sent him, saying that they “came as a great consolation.” He continued by telling her, “For many years, I have had the opportunity of knowing you through your books, and now I am happy to…

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