During the 1960s, African-American writer Alex Haley conducted several notable interviews for Playboy magazine, including one with Martin Luther King Jr. published in January 1965. In the interview, King reflected on experiences in his life that directly influenced his beliefs and work as a civil rights leader.
When Haley asked King to recall the moment he first became aware of racial prejudice, King recounted the story of a trip he made at the age of fourteen with a teacher, Mrs. Bradley, to compete in an oratorical contest in Dublin, Georgia, sponsored by the Negro Elks. Although King won the contest with a speech titled “The Negro and the Constitution,” this trip was memorable for a more sobering reason.
On the bus ride home to Atlanta, there was a stop at a small town, and some white passengers boarded. The bus driver ordered Mrs. Bradley and the young King to give up their seats. When the pair did not move quickly enough, the driver began cursing and calling them names.
Recalling the incident, King tells Haley: “I intended to stay right in that seat, but Mrs. Bradley urged me up, saying we had to obey the law. It was the angriest I have ever been in my life, as we stood up in the aisle for about ninety more miles to Atlanta. That night will never leave my memory.” As a follow-up to this story, Haley astutely mentioned another incident on a bus, in 1955, which thrust King into his role as a civil rights leader.
Among the items in this small but intriguing collection are early correspondence between Haley and his editors (in a Western Union telegram dated March 5, 1964, Haley expresses difficulty in finding a calm moment to conduct the interview with King), a typewritten transcript of Haley’s notes, and copies of his manuscript with editors’ emendations. The publisher’s proofs show how Haley then reordered the material to form the text of the finished article.
Inevitably, parts of the original conversation between these two great men did not make it into the final version. They are preserved only in the original transcript now at Duke.
Biblio-file: Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
January 31, 2011