The Honorable Ernest Vandiver
October 26, 1960
The nation and the world are watching Atlanta and its handling of the current sit-in problem. I was pleased to learn on Monday that the principals on both sides have responded to civic and government leadership and have begun negotiations under amiable conditions. I am confident that Atlanta's long tradition of good race relations will insure a peaceable and just settlement of this problem.
However, I am surprised and disturbed with reports that as a result of his being a demonstrator Reverend Martin Luther King is being directed by a State Court in DeKalb to serve four months in a prison work camp under a suspended sentence for violating an automobile registration statute. I feel sure that under Georgia justice punishment in a prison work camp is meted out only to those whose offenses are major and largely involve crimes of moral turpitude. It seems hard to argue that violation of an automobile registration statute involves moral turpitude. I have great respect for the people of Georgia and for their desire and sense of justice. I am sure that a cornerstone of Georgia justice is that the punishment should fit the crime. Hence, I cannot believe that it is the public will that such a severe punishment be meted out for what is almost universally considered a technical violation punishable at most with a small fine. I neither desire nor seek to interfere in the administration of Georgia justice, but as a friend of the people of Georgia and as an American citizen I do wish to inform you of my interest.
With best personal regards, I am
John F. Kennedy