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President Kennedy Sends a Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute to Civil Rights Leader A. Philip Randolph
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Dr. King has Labored at Best to advance the Principles of Equal Justice under Law for all Americans and Equal access to all the Opportunities of our Society

JOHN F. KENNEDY. Two Typed Drafts of a Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., sent to Civil Rights Activist Asa Philip Randolph. Two pages, one on light blue White House telegram stationary, each 8 x 10 inches. The first, Washington, [D.C.], January 27, 1961. The second, with holographic emendations signed “Kennedy” undated, but circa January 27, 1961.

Inventory #27577       Price: $30,000

According to the President’s secretary Evelyn Lincoln, “A copy of a telegram to Mr. A. Philip Randolph was handed to President John F. Kennedy on January 27, 1961 at his desk in the Oval Office. He struck out the second paragraph and dictated changes in the third. The typed corrections were then presented to him. He made changes and then added in his own handwriting, which you now have in your possession. Please note his signature at the end of line 2.” Corrections on the first draft look to be in Evelyn Lincoln’s hand.

The second, and final, draft reads:
“Please convey my best wishes to those meeting to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. By his non violent and symbolic actions, Dr. King is challenging us to carry out in practice the truths which we preach: that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights. His conviction and courage--in the tradition of Ghandi [sic] and Thoreau--have stirred the conscience of the nation, and brought us closer to the time when Americans of every color and belief will have equal access to all the opportunities of our society.”

The President adds in his own hand:
“I hope you will convey my very warm regards to Dr. King. Dr. King has labored at best to advance the principles of equal justice under law for all Americans and equal access to all opportunities of our society. Cordially. Kennedy”

Complete Transcript

January 27, 1961
Mr. A. Philip Randolph
312 West 125th Street
c/o Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.
New York City

Please convey my best wishes to those meeting to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. I share the high regard you all have for Dr. King.

Every nation needs men of conviction and courage to stir its conscience. Acting in the tradition of India’s Mahatma Ghandi and our own Henry Thoreau, Martin Luther King has stirred this nation.

Inevitably this involves some tension – but it is creative tension that goes with all change. It is part of our national process of persuasion.

By his non-violent and symbolic actions, Dr. King is challenging us to carry out in practice the truths we preach: that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights. He and his colleagues-in-action are thus helping all Americans understand that these truths are indeed self-evident. ^His conviction and courage have stirred the conscience of the nation and brought us closer to the time when all Americans of every color and belief will have equal access to all the many opportunities of our society.^

                                                                        John F. Kennedy

[Second Draft:]

Please convey my best wishes to those meeting to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. I share your high regard for Dr. King.

            By his non-violent and symbolic actions, Dr. King is challenging us to carry out in practice the truths which we preach: that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights. His conviction and courage—in the tradition of Ghandi and Thoreau--have stirred the conscience of the nation and brought us closer to the time when all Americans of every color and belief will have equal access to all the opportunities of our society.

            I hope you will convey my very best wishes ^warm regard^ to Dr. King   Kennedy

Dr. King has labored at [heart?] to advance the principles of equal justice under law for all men, and equal access to all the opportunities of our society. / [with?] [Cordially?]

Historical Background
On January 27, 1961, the Committee to Aid the Southern Freedom Struggle hosted a benefit concert entitled “A Tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The event raised $55,000 for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Harry Belafonte was co-chairman of the Committee and invited Sammy Davis Jr. to emcee the event with comedian Nipsey Russell. Davis enlisted other stars at a hotel in Las Vegas. During the event, Davis said, “We are here to honor Dr. King. We look to him as our leader, not as American Negroes, or as a minority group, but as human beings.”

The event lasted for four hours and forty minutes and filled Carnegie Hall’s 2,760-seat auditorium, and the standing-room-only audience spilled over onto the recital stage. Tickets ranged from $3 for top balcony seats to $100 for box seats. The first half of the program consisted of entertainment by Count Basie and his orchestra, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Mahalia Jackson, Sidney Portier, and jazz singers Carmen McRae and Joe Williams, among others. The program after intermission featured three of the five members of the “Rat Pack” (originally the “Clan”)—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.—with comedians Buddy Hackett and Jan Murray substituting for Rat Pack members Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. One week earlier, some of Sinatra’s “Clan” had performed at the Inaugural Gala at Washington, D.C.’s National Guard Armory as a tribute to President John F. Kennedy.

Belafonte introduced King to a standing ovation. King said the tribute to him was, in reality, a tribute to “all citizens of good will who are seeking integration.” King concluded, “If America is to remain a first-class nation she can no longer have second-class citizens.” President John F. Kennedy, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt each sent telegrams of congratulations. Jet magazine wrote that the audience “heard a starry tribute that included a 41-word telegram from President John F. Kennedy.” Belafonte read Kennedy’s telegram to “the dean of Negro integration leaders, A. Philip Randolph.” Belafonte also told the audience, “Artists have a responsibility to help create a social consciousness and lend economic support to men like Reverend King. In many instances, we as artists are told that we should not be identified with causes or political parties. The artists on this program,” Belafonte continued, “are now politically and socially identifying themselves.”[1]

One month before the tribute event, King had written to Davis, “When I solicited your help for our struggle almost two months ago, I did not expect so creative and fulsome a response. All of us are inspired by your wonderful support and the Committee is busily engaged in the preparations for January 27th. I hope I can convey our appreciation to you with the warmth which we feel it.”[2]

Although the Associated Press produced an account of the benefit, it was generally ignored by the nation’s newspapers. It was the subject of feature stories in Ebony and Jet,magazines founded in 1945 and 1951 respectively that targeted African American audiences.[3] In Georgia, two members of the General Assembly introduced a resolution deploring the benefit show. The resolution urged a boycott of products advertised by celebrities who participated and declared that “The purpose of raising this slush fund is to reward Martin Luther King Jr., for an incarceration in regard to illegal picketing and to further create dissension among the races.”

Randolph was the head of the March on Washington in 1963 where Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. He was active in the fight for civil rights until his death in 1979.

Condition: Light age; a few minor stains, including a paperclip stain; else fine.



[1]Robert E. Johnson, “Starry Tribute to King By Sinatra Clan Raises $50,000,” Jet, February 9, 1961, 58-61.

[2]Martin Luther King Jr. to Sammy Davis Jr., December 20, 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. Papers, Boston University, Boston, MA. King apologized for his delay in writing, attributing it to “a sojourn in jail and a trip to Nigeria.”

[3]“A Tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Ebony, April 1961, 91-95.


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