Late, but early: AFSC and the work of Martin Luther King

Much has been written about the work and legacy of Dr Martin Luther King on the occasion of the anniversary of his assassination 50 years ago on 4 April 1968. Friends may not be aware of one modest footnote: that the proposal that he be awarded the Nobel Peace prize came from US Quakers – the American Friends Service Committee AFSC, themselves winners of the prize in 1947.

The AFSC letter to the Nobel Committee described Dr King’s “profound and peacemaking influence”, saying the Board was

conscious of the baleful effect of racial tension upon the organisation of peace. It felt that the work and witness of Martin Luther King, and the spirit in which he promoted “the dignity and worth of the human person”, were influencing the attitudes of great numbers of men and women throughout the world. Until the attitudes epitmized in the life of Martin Luther King were to spread among individual men the nations could not achieve real peace. In this respect Martin Luther King’s influence went far beyond the issues of racial tension, and pointed the way to basic new relationships between men everywhere.

The AFSC’s letter dated 31 Jan 1963 missed the deadline for that year, and in the event the 1963 peace prize went to the Red Cross/Red Crescent. But the AFSC proposal was carried forward to 1964, and Dr King was duly awarded the prize for that year.

Inspired but late: the AFSC’s Jan 1963  proposal was held over to 1964 when Dr King did indeed win the Nobel Peace Prize (photo – Nobel Committee Archive)

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