KING'S WORD VINDICATES FIELDS
By Uriah J. Fields
Rev. Fields seems to be in line, and the internal
structure of our organization is as strong as ever."
Martin Luther King, Jr. 7/12/56
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., writing on the effects of Rev. Uriah J. Fields' charge that funds were misappropriated by some Montgomery Bus Boycott (MIA) leaders, his retraction and resigning as secretary of the MIA were having on the bus boycott, in a letter dated July 12, 1956, to his friend, Reverend J. Raymond Henderson, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles stated "Rev. Fields seems to be in line, and the internal structure of our organization is strong as ever."1
On December 5, 1955, four days after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give her bus seat to a white man when ordered to do so by a bus driver and the day of her trial when she was found guilty of violating the segregation laws of Alabama, the MIA was organized to provide organizational leadership for the bus boycott. King and Fields were elected, president and secretary, respectively. Rev. Ralph David Abernathy offered the name for the organization.
It was on June 11 1956, when I publicly stated at a mass meeting and later in a statement released to the press that some MIA leaders were misappropriating funds and that I had resigned as secretary of the organization. The word spread life wildfire.
The news broke at the time King and his wife Coretta and Abernathy and his wife Juanita were vacationing in Los Angeles where King was scheduled to preach at Henderson's Second Baptist Church from June 10 to 15. Upon receiving the news King rush back to Montgomery. On June 18. I met with King in his home, located at 309 South Jackson Street about one and one-half hours after I had talked with him by telephone. During that telephone conversation I told him that I want to talk with him in person. He sounded pleased and invited me to come to his home. The expressions on his face revealed a pleasant countenance, however, I would soon learn that he was furious about the statement I had released to the press. No sooner than he closed the door he said, "God damn you! Why in the hell did you put our business in the streets?"2
With remorse I told him that I had no intention of hurting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I attempted to convince him that I did not believe he had personally misused any MIA funds. I said that some other leaders had misused MIA funds. He responded, "You are probably right but you dealt with this matter the wrong way. This was an in-house matter." I told him that I want to come to the mass meeting tonight and let the people know that the press had misunderstood what I said. King wanted to know if I would retract what I had said and offer an apology to MIA leaders and the people boycotting the buses. I explained to him that I wanted to deny everything that the press had reported that I said about the misappropriation of funds. Then I told him that I want to offer my resignation as secretary of the MIA.3
During the mass meeting that night I retracted every thing I had said about funds being misappropriated. Some people in the audience did not want to accept my retraction or forgive me, despite King's pleading on my behalf. King said "Fields has shown courage and expressed remorse for what he said about the misappropriatoin of MIA funds. Before coming to this meeting he contacted me in person and said that he wanted to come to this meeting and make a statement to correct what he had said. He did this freely."4
After King and I made this joint appearance at the mass meeting I would never again meet him face-to-face even though we both remained as pastors in Montgomery, he until January 30, 1960 and I until July 7, 1962.
It was about a month later, on July 12, 1956, when King stated in a letter to Henderson: "Things are going very well here in Montgomery now. Rev. Fields seems to be in line, and the internal structure of our organzation is as strong as ever."5
King also discussed this matter with Rev. Thomas Kilgore, Jr., pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in New York, who upon the retirement of Rev. Henderson, became the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Kilgore was among the earliest out-of-state minsters to make a financial contribution to support the bus boycott. In his letter of March 7, 1956, he stated, "I am enclosing an additional report of $1,227.82." Earlier, just days after nearly 100 black leaders were indicted by the Montgomery Grand Jury he had come to Montgomery with a financial donation. I had not been indicted, but had received "Duces Tecum" summons, that ordered me to appear in court and bring all records of the MIA in my possession.
I became a resident in Los Angeles in mid-1962. Following the Watts Riot of 1965 and five years before the 1992 Los Angeles Rodney King Riot, black ministers in Los Angeles organized The Gathering, an organization aimed at pushing for restriction in police use of handguns and combating drug use. At the time I was secretary of the Los Angeles Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance composed mostly of black ministers. Kilgore was elected president and I was elected secretary of The Gathering.
Kilgore and I highly respected each other and appreciated the commitment each other made to improving the lives of black people in Los Angeles. He never ceased to offer encouragement to me. This was unlike Rev. T. M. Chambers, who after Kilgore, was pastor of the second largest black church in Los Angeles. When I first attended the Los Angeles Baptist Union, where Chambers was an officer, he all but called my name as he spoke disparagingly of me. Inferring that I was a traitor. Of course, he really didn't know me. In the autographed copy of Kilgore's book "Challenging Preaching for Renewal of Church and Society," published in 1992, he writes, "To Dr. Uriah J. Fields: A dedicated Warrior. Best wishes. Thomas Kilgore, Jr. 2/26/92." He had told me a year earlier that he enjoyed reading my book "The Mutuality Warrior: The Person Best Prepared to Survive and Experience Meaning."
Now back to the statement King made to Henderson about me and its meaning and significance. As indicated earlier, I never ceased wanting the bus boycott to be successful, even when I was no longer participating in it. After my break with the MIA I felt that the best way for me to support the bus boycott was to not be involved in it. However, I told my parishioners that they should follow their own hearts, i.e., support the bus boycott if they chose to do so, to let the spirit be their guide. Some of them remained loyal supporters of the bus boycott. Several of my members were fired from their jobs because they supported the bus boyoctt. Some others were harassed on and/or off their jobs. Others were threatened with bodily harm by their employers if they didn't return to riding the bus. Yet, they refused to ride the bus.
I continued my efforts to improve the condition of black people in Montgomery. I was successful in having city officials add paved side walks to Oak Street that was used by many students who attended Carver High School. I was instrumental in facilitating the hiring of the first black cashier of a local supermarket called Wise Supermarket. My fight for justice for black people in Montgomery, including calling for black men to be able to join the Alabama National Guard and become astronauts. I received replies from President Dwight Eisenhower and James Webb, Director of the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA). During the last year I lived in Montgomery I ran for a seat on the Montgmery County Board of Education. This was the first time since Reconstruction, if then, that the name of a black person had appeared on a ballot of Montgomery County for a countywide office. A few years earlier E. D. Nixon, treasurer of the MIA, had been on the ballot of the City of Montgomery when he ran to represent a ward in a predominately black area of Montgomery. Of course, we both knew we would not be elected mainly because there were only a few black voters in Montgomery County. I received threatening letters from the Ku Klux Klan just as Nixon had received, that ordered me to take my name off the ballot and leave town. Klansmen had burned crosses on Nixon's lawn. Neither of us left town. But I did increase the supply of ammunition I used in my rifle and pistol.
I also provided pastoral leadership for rebuilding the Bell Street Baptist Church which was one of four churches and two parsonages bombed by rabid racists in the wee hours of January 10, 1957, in their last-ditch attempt to prevent integration of Montgomery buses, even though the U. S. Supreme Court had declared segregation of Montgomery buses to be unconstitutional. Regarding these bombed churches, Taylor Branch writes in his book, "Parting the Water," "Bell Street Baptist Church suffered the most destruction on the night of the bombs."6 In May of 1958 members of Bell Street Baptist Church held the first worship service in their newly constructed sanctuary.
To reiterate, on July 12, 1956, King stated in his letter to Henderson: "Rev. Fields seems to be in line, and our internal structure is as strong as ever." He was right about me. His statement is a vindication of me and of my non-obstructing effect on the bus boycott. However, there are those who have and others who continue to harbor ill-will against me. They want let go of their resentment toward me. Despite King's pronouncement there are those who seek to demonize me even today. Some have gone to their graves harboring resentment against me.
On King's Holiday, January 17, 2011, I attended an event at Caplin Pavilon at the School of Law of the University of Virginia. Clayborne Carson, the preeminent historian on Martin Luther King, Jr., was the featured speaker. During the question and answer period, I prefaced my question inquiring "What is the nature of our struggle for the future?" with "Dr. Carson, I want to thank you for having not demonized me in your writings, as some other writers have done." I was referring primarily to the objective manner he presented me in "The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.," Volume III.," of which he is Senior Editor.
It is worth repeating, that King, chief leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, less than two months after I charged some black leaders with misappropriating funds, retracting my statement and submitting my resignation as secretary of the MIA, stated, "Rev. Fields is in line, and the internal structure of our organization is as strong as ever." God forbid that other people, continue to harbor resentment toward me, some of whom continue to call me a villain, traitor, obstructionist and an enemy of King, despite King declaring many years ago "Rev. Fields is in line... ."
In the last chapter of my book "Inside the Montgomery Bus Boycott: My Personal Story," under the caption, "The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr," I stated in the closing pargaraph: "King is one of the few extraordinarily gifted and distinguished Masters of all human existence who have kept alive the "Paradise Regained" hope that is rooted in the divine promise that we can live in a just society. This is our inheritance. From eternity King speaks to our salient spirits saying 'claim your inheritance!' Dare we beneficiaries of his legacy forget to treasure it and to transmit it to our children and teach them to pass it on to their children so that it will live in perpetuity."7
Some people who speak ill of me were never involved in the bus boycott, even though some of them say they were, and some have written fictional accounts of the bus boycott which they call nonfiction.
No, I do not need validation, vindication or any explanation of my intention or commitment to justice and equality because I know that I have been and continue to be guided by the Divine Power who has empowered me to do good and secured my survival.
I close with these words by Wiliam Cullen Bryant that King often quoted during our mass meetings and Executive Board meetings: "Truth crush to earth will rise again." And Jesus said, "Know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32).
1. Carson, Clayborne, "The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.,Vol III," (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1997) p. 319.
2. Fields, Uriah J., "Inside the Montgomery Bus Boycott: My Personal Story," (Baltimore: AmErica House, 2002) p.140.
3. Ibid., p.141.
4. Ibid., p. 142.
5. Carson, "The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.," p. 319.
6. Branch, Taylor, "Parting the Waters," (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988) p. 200.
7. Fields, "Inside the Montgomery Bus Boycott," p.181.
Copyright 2011 by Uriah J. Fields.
I invite you to read two other articles I have written that are on this web site. They are (1) "The First Day of the Montgomery Bus Boycott " and (2) "Fifty Years After the Montgomery Bus Boycott."
My Request of You: There is one other thing you can do. Forward this website: www.uriahfields.com to your friends so they may be aware of the truths you have obtained from reading this article(s). Thank you. ujf
Please note: You can read more than 500 articles, essays and poems by Uriah J. Fields when you visit: www.authorsden.com/visit/author.asp?id=11021