In 1958, in addition to her other civil rights activities, Hilda Proctor worked as Martin Luther King’s personal secretary for seven months while Maude Ballou, his regular assistant, was on maternity leave.
Hilda Stewart Proctor was the great-niece of Harriet Tubman and was born on 5 April 1905, in Boston, Massachusetts, to British parents. During her teenage years, she was a member of the Fellowship of Youths for Peace, a precursor to her involvement with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Proctor studied Religion and Social Studies at Boston University while she continued her education as a violin student at the New England Conservatory of Music. Before working for King, she was employed by several black newspapers, including the New York Amsterdam News and the Pittsburgh Courier, where she worked for associate editor George Schuyler. Following her work with these publications, Proctor served as private secretary for the president of Fisk University, Charles S. Johnson.
In March 1958 Proctor moved to Alabama to work as King’s secretary in Ballou’s absence. King appreciated Proctor’s ‘‘helpfulness and genuine concern,’’ particularly in the extra assistance she provided while King was in New York recovering from his stabbing in late 1958 (Papers 4:550). Although Proctor only worked for King in Alabama until August of that year, the two remained friends through correspondence and occasional visits. Prior to King’s 1959 India trip, Proctor volunteered to help him with any extra office work he might have: ‘‘As any friend would do who is interested in getting you off to India’’ (Papers 4:554). The respect that Proctor had for King’s work was evident in a letter she wrote after leaving Montgomery. She complained that in her new community, she ‘‘[did] not find the people on fire with the problem that you are giving your life for … I have to watch myself that I do not fall into this complacency’’ (Proctor, 15 April 1964).
After working for King, Proctor spent time in New York, Hawaii, and Florida. She continued to be active in the civil rights movement, working with such organizations as FOR, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Urban League. Proctor died on 21 June 1984.
King to Proctor, 22 December 1958, in Papers 4:549–550.
Proctor to King, 27 May 1958, in Papers 4:412–413.
Proctor to King, 31 December 1958, in Papers 4:554.
Proctor to King, 22 May 1959, in Papers 5:212–214.
Proctor to King, 15 April 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.
Schuyler, Black and Conservative, 1966.