1960 October 27

Martin Luther King Released From Reidsville, Georgia Prison; RFK’s Phone Call Helped


Martin Luther King was released from the Reidsville, Georgia prison on this day. He had been arrested for a civil rights demonstration in Georgia, and then sentenced to prison because of an earlier case. When he was transferred in the middle of the night to the Reidsville, Georgia, jail, his wife and many others feared that he would be lynched. Word reached Democratic Party presidential candidate John F. Kennedy who then called King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, on October 26, 1963, to express his sympathy for her husband’s imprisonment. JFK promised no action and took none. But Robert F. Kennedy called both the Governor of Georgia and the judge in the case (see the separate event on this day), and it is believed this led to King’s immediate release.

Word of Kennedy’s phone call circulated quickly in the African-American community, and some observers believe that the favorable impression it made helped Kennedy with the presidential election in November. Most political observers, however, dispute that interpretation.

Read King’s Statement on his release: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/interview_after_release_from_georgia_state_prison_at_reidsville/

Learn more about the Kennedy phone calls: Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–1963 (1988)

Read the monumental Three-Volume biography of Dr. King by Taylor Branch: Parting the Waters (1988); Pillar of Fire (1998); At Canaan’s Edge (2006)

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