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Martin Luther King (1929-1968). Typed Letter Signed on his Southern Christian Leadership Conference letterhead, Selma, Alabama, March 15, 1965, to Forio. This was the very day that King eulogized Rev. Reeb in Selma. “In the rush surrounding Selma in our Alabama voting project, I neglected to express my deep gratitude for your sponsorship of the dinner honoring me on January 26 . Please accept this belated note of appreciation. I must confess that few events have warmed my heart as did this occasion. It is a testimonial not only to me but to the greatness of the City of Atlanta, the South, the nation and its ability to rise above the conflict of former generations and really experience that beloved community where all differences are reconciled and all hearts in harmony with the great principles of our Democracy and the tenets of our Judeo-Christian heritage.” Also present is Forio’s printed invitation to the dinner, with his name and the new head of Coca Cola’s written on it, inviting the recipient “to attend a dinner honoring the 1964 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an Atlanta citizen...” A list of the scores of sponsors follows. We obtained this unique and important set directly from Mr. Forio’s grandson. They have never previously been offered for sale. – After King won the 1964 Nobel Prize, some members of the community in his native Atlanta felt that this extraordinary accomplishment by a local man merited a testimonial dinner to honor him for that achievement. However, the decision to honor KIng was a very controversial one as there was still substantial prejudice as well as resistance to the civil rights movement at the time. Mayor Ivan Allen told the organizers that white leaders he approached “won’t go along.” But Allen was worried and visited the president of the city’s dominant corporation, Coca Cola, Robert Woodruff. Allen told Woodruff that “the city would be humiliated if the white community boycotted it.” Woodruff agreed and Coca Cola called a meeting of the city’s power structure to present the issue to them head on. At the meeting, Allen and the Cocoa Cola officials stressed that neglect of King would be morally reprehensible and also be an international embarrassment to Atlanta. They pressed the bankers, lawyers and businessmen to not merely support the dinner through contributions, but urged on them the necessity to personally attend. The leaders swung into line and agreed. – Coca Cola, which took responsibility for the dinner’s planning and logistics, named its vice president, Edgar Forio, to head the effort. The dinner took place on January 27, 1965, and marked the first time an integrated audience of civic leaders publicly honored a black person in the 20th century south. Joining Mayor Allen and the luminaries in attendance was former Mayor William Hartsfield, religious figures like Archbishop Paul Hallinan and Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, Ralph McGill, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, and academic leaders like Benjamin Mays, president of Morehead College. King was presented a bowl, which he accepted saying it was a moment of unspeakable fulfillment and satisfaction for him, one that he would treasure the rest of his days. He spoke of the South, of the need for progress, and then made a statement that would become one of his most famous quotations: "The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and the moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy." This dinner and speech were considered a magnificent success by both progressive southerners and civil rights advocates, and were featured in the film, “Driving Miss Daisy.” But the battle for civil rights was far from won. – Immediately after this honor, King went to Selma, Alabama, where, as King said, “we see a classic pattern of disenfranchisement typical of the Southern Black Belt areas where Negroes are in the majority.” The goal was to register blacks to vote, and the confrontation that resulted was one of the great moments of the civil rights era. On February 1, King was jailed with more than two hundred others after a voting rights march in Selma. March 7 saw voting rights marchers being beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an incident shown on the television news throughout the nation that night. Four days later, Rev. James Reeb died after a beating by white racists. Then, on March 25, the Selma-to-Montgomery march concluded with an address by King, and hours afterward, Klan night riders killed Viola Liuzzo while she transported marchers back to Selma. – Amidst all this, King wrote Edgar Forio, thanking him for making the Nobel dinner possible and making an extraordinary assessment of the progress that had been made by Atlanta, the South, the nation, and the civil rights movement.