What Did Martin Buber and His Friends Write to President Johnson about Martin Luther King Jr.?

A letter to the American president about MLK’s release from jail was found in the Martin Buber Archive at the National Library of Israel.

Zack Rothbart | 15.01.18 |
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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In Birmingham Jail, 1965

Word of the jailing and release of Martin Luther King Jr. from an Alabama jail in February 1965 reached Jerusalem quickly and drove some of Israel’s intellectual elite to write to President Lyndon B. Johnson about it.

The letter, newly discovered in the Martin Buber Archive at the National Library of Israel, is dated February 14th, 1965. It was written shortly before Buber’s death and is the only letter to an American president found among the philosopher’s personal papers.

The Professors’ Letter to President Johnson, February 14th, 1965. From the Martin Buber Archive

The letter includes the following passage: “We are taking the liberty to express our deep satisfaction that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now again a free man and can continue his righteous fight for the equality of his people, a fight to which you Mr. President have given your full assistance…”

Just a few months after receiving the Nobel Prize, King was jailed on February 2, 1965 after leading some 300 protestors in Selma, Alabama. He would quickly be released and meet with President Johnson just a few days later to discuss voters’ rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was deeply influenced by the Israeli Jewish philosopher Buber. in 1963’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, one of the defining statements of the United States civil rights movement, King referenced Buber directly, using his famous  “I and Thou” principle to argue against the evils of segregation and “relegating persons to the status of things.”

A transcript of the letter is available below:

Jerusalem, 14.2.1965.

Dear Mr. President,

We are taking the liberty to express our deep satisfaction that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now again a free man and can continue his righteous fight for the equality of his people, a fight to which you Mr. President, have given your full assistance.

We are not equally sure that all the other emprisoned 300 liberty fighters have meanwhile been released. Is this suspicion should prove correct, we submit that urgent steps should be taken to return all of them as soon as possible to their families.

Believe us, Mr. President.

Respectfully yours

Professors at the Hebrew University
Jerusalem




Zack Rothbart

Zack likes history, reading and thinking (not necessarily in that order), and tries to learn something from everyone. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three smart and cute kids, for which he is grateful.

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