A thank you letter from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is not a simple paragraph. Rather, King pours his heart and soul into telling you how grateful he is for whatever you did to deserve the thank you letter. One such letter was recently discovered in a communal studies collection in the University Archives and Special Collections. Some of the phrasing in this simple thank you note included,
“Without your moral support we would be caught in a dungeon of despair without knowing that many people all over the nation are supporting us in our struggle. By aiding us in this significant way, you are telling the world that the rights of Negroes cannot be trampled in any community without impairing the rights of every other American.”
This was the wording found in the letter sent to Irving Wolfe received from Dr. King in July of 1963. Wolfe was the president of Skyview Acres Co-operative, which was an integrated residential community in New York state. The communal group was founded just after World War II in 1942. This co-operative held a block party to raise funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Wolfe had written a letter explaining this, describing how over 400 men, women, and children from across the county turned up to help the event, and enclosed a check with the letter for $567.56.
Dr. King, SCLC’s first president, could have just sent a simple letter thanking Wolfe for his efforts; he didn’t have to send anything at all as a matter of fact. The fact that Dr. King took the time to detail how important Wolfe’s donation was to his goal of ending discrimination showed the true character of the civil rights leader. Dr. King notes how much moral and financial support the donation provided, saying that without fund raising efforts like these, the SCLC would be “…unable to work effectively toward its goal of the full integration of the Negro into all aspects of American life.” Dr. King concludes his speech (disguised as a letter) by saying:
“I am confident that if we continue to gain this type of support, this sweltering summer of discontent can be transformed into an invigorating autumn of justice and freedom for all people.”
Students processing archive collections in the History 323 class, Introduction to Archival Theory, found this letter while working through stacks of correspondence. Student Logan Walters found the letter and said the header on the page, “Southern Christian Leadership Conference” caught his attention so he pulled it out of the pile and saw Martin Luther King Jr.’s signature. “It is one of those truly enlightening moments in archive work,” said Archives & Reference Librarian, Jennifer Greene. “History comes to life when you see a real signature and read the actual words put down by a man as wise and poetic as Martin Luther King Jr.”