Appeal To... John F. Kennedy

John F. KENNEDY   |   Martin Luther KING Jr.   |   Clarence JONES   |   Maude BALLOU

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.'S "EXTRAORDINARY MANIFESTO… WOULD SHAKE AMERICAN POLITICS AND REVERBERATE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD": HIS VERY RARE MAY 17, 1962 APPEAL TO PRESIDENT KENNEDY, CALLING FOR NATIONAL REDEDICATION TO THE PRINCIPLES OF THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION AND FOR AN EXECUTIVE ORDER PROHIBITING SEGREGATION IN THE UNITED STATES

(KENNEDY, JOHN F.) KING, JR., Reverend Dr. Martin Luther. An Appeal To The Honorable John F. Kennedy President of the United States. For National Rededication to the Principles of the Emancipation Proclamation and for an Executive Order Prohibiting Segregation in the United States of America. Atlanta: Southern Christian Leadership Conference, May 17, 1962. Octavo, original blue-gray cover wrapper, brad-bound as issued; pp. (i), 1-58, (A1), A2-A34. $16,800.

Rare May 17, 1962 printing of Dr. King’s bold Appeal calling for President Kennedy to issue a “second Emancipation Proclamation,” with this copy, belonging to King’s secretary, the same draft as that delivered to the White House, containing King’s eloquent Preamble urging Kennedy "to remove from American society, once and for all time, the festering cancer of segregation and discrimination… the time has come, Mr. President, to let those dawn-like rays of freedom, first glimpsed in 1863, fill the heavens with the noonday sunlight of complete human dignity."

After Martin Luther King, Jr. made several attempts to confirm a meeting with Kennedy, the president finally consented in October 1961. It was kept quiet and framed as a luncheon at the White House. That day, as King and Kennedy were walking down a hallway in the residence, "King saw the Emancipation Proclamation hanging on the wall in the Lincoln Bedroom. It provided an excuse for him to bring up politics in a positive way—to talk about the historic glow of Lincoln's decision. King suggested that perhaps the president would consider issuing a second Emancipation Proclamation for January of 1963, on the 100th anniversary of the first one. Just as Lincoln had used an executive order to abolish slavery in the Southern states, King said, Kennedy could outlaw segregation." When Kennedy suggested he would consider it, King spent six months with his lawyers in researching and drafting "a second Emancipation in Kennedy's name" (Branch & Edwards, A Second Emancipation).

The following May King had an elegantly bound copy of his Appeal for a second Emancipation Proclamation delivered to the White House. It was "an extraordinary manifesto… a wonderful example of King's close reading of American politics, as well as his understanding of the role that moral leadership… could have on the American public" (Blight and Scharfstein, King's Forgotten Manifesto). In his Preamble, King cites Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Frederick Douglass, and Kennedy's own Strategy for Peace, as well as pivotal Supreme Court decisions. He eloquently declares: "the time has come for Presidential leadership to be vigorously exerted to remove from American society, once and for all time, the festering cancer of segregation and discrimination… the time has come, Mr. President, to let those dawn-like rays of freedom, first glimpsed in 1863, fill the heavens with the noonday sunlight of complete human dignity."

King hoped that a formal announcement by Kennedy of a second Emancipation Proclamation would finally move the White House "beyond symbolism by throwing the full weight and prestige of the presidency beyond the movement." With that in mind, King "scheduled the debut of the document for May 17, 1962, the 8th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education" (Blight & Scharftsein). Kennedy, however, "declined to announce a new emancipation proclamation or propose a comprehensive civil rights bill, arguing that political opposition in Congress was too great… While King found Kennedy to be an intelligent and skilled leader, he also thought that he lacked the 'moral passion' to truly embrace the cause of racial justice" (Joseph, Sword and the Shield, 116-17).

This very rare May 17, 1962 document, which came from Maude Ballou, King's secretary, includes King's electrifying Preamble, along with nearly 50-pages of text and a 34-page Appendix A that together cite "hundreds of legal precedents, Especially Truman's military desegregation order in 1948, as well as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and, of course, the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that demanded that the powers of the executive office be used to eliminate all forms of discrimination" (Blight & Scharfstein). In his Preamble, King identifies four key points for the proposed Executive Order. The first of these is: "That the full powers of your office will be used to eliminate all forms of statutory-imposed segregation and discrimination from and throughout the respective states of this nation." That bold proclamation "would shake American politics and reverberate throughout the world." Yet Kennedy still "did not respond to King's draft proclamation even by private letter" (Branch, Parting the Waters, 589-900).

After more "months of lobbying, King delivered another draft of his 'second Emancipation Proclamation' to the White House on December 17, 1962. It was much shorter. By this point, he'd backtracked on asking the president to proclaim all the segregation laws null," largely because King "realized he could no longer count on Kennedy to take leadership on civil rights… King had to 'go for broke,' as he called it, and head down to Birmingham," where fresh demonstrations had begun. "That's when Birmingham brought out the dogs and fire hoses and shocked the world… Kennedy did finally go on television and propose a civil rights bill in June of 1963, but by that time… he didn't have any choice but to calm the fires of protest before they consumed his government" (Branch & Edwards). The same night Kennedy delivered his speech, Medgar Evers was assassinated in front of his home and lay dying in front of his wife and three children. Though King's Appeal, his bold "manifesto, failed to spur a second Emancipation proclamation from the White House… the legacy of the second Emancipation Proclamation lives on in a million conversations about the lasting meaning of the Civil War… over whether we are still a 'house divided' half-free or half-equal" (Blight & Scharfstein). Original front wrapper printed: "Submitted May 17, 1962 by The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Ga." Containing Part I: "Preamble" (1-9); Part II. "Resume of the State of Law with Respect to State Enforced Segregation and Discrimination Based on Race and Color" (9-36); Part II: "Resume of Non-Compliance with the Judicially Developed and Statutory Law Outlawing State Enforced Segregation in American Society" (37-41); Part IV: "The Duty and Power of the President to Secure Constitutional and Civil Rights in America" (42-58); Appendix A. "Presidential Power to Enforce Judicial Decrees and the Civil Rights Act of 1957" (A-A34). This copy comes from Maude Ballou, King's secretary.

Text fine; light edge-wear to front wrapper. A rare and exceptional copy in about-fine condition.

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