1960 October 19

Martin Luther King Arrested in Georgia – Leads to Famous JFK Phone Call


Rev. Martin Luther King was arrested at a sit-in in Georgia on this day, setting in motion a significant event in the 1960 presidential election campaign. King was sentenced to serve four months in a Georgia prison on an old traffic charge. He was then transferred in the middle of the night to the state prison in Reidsville, Georgia. Many people, including his wife Coretta, feared that he might be lynched in the process. Aides to Democratic Party candidate for president Sen. John F. Kennedy prompted him to call Coretta to express his concern, which he did on October 26, 1960. Kennedy did not promise to take any action, but his brother Robert called and berated the judge in the case. King was then released on October 27, 1960.

Kennedy’s phone call received considerable attention in the African-American community, and some commentators argue that the impact on African-American voters helped Kennedy win the election. Historians, however, doubt the impact of the call on the election outcome.

Read the monumental three-volume biography of America in the King Years by Taylor Branch: Parting the Waters, 1954–63 (1988); Pillar of Fire, 1963–65 (1998); At Canaan’s Edge, 1965–1968 (2006)

Visit the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC: http://www.nps.gov/mlkm/index.htm

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