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Merton's Correspondence with:

Williams, Robert L.; Robert L. Williams; Robert Williams; Robert Lawrence Williams

Williams, Robert Lawrence  printer

Photograph of Robert Lawrence Williams sent to Merton circa 1960's.  
Photograph of Robert Lawrence Williams sent to Merton circa 1960's. 

Descriptive Summary

Record Group: Section A - Correspondence
Dates of materials: 1964-1968
Volume: 74 item(s); 123 pg(s)

Scope and Content

Robert Williams writes Merton to ask that he writes some poems to be set to song for a tribute concert to President John F. Kennedy and as a gesture of goodwill toward black people in the United States. Proceeds were to go to the Foundation for the Education of Black Students. Merton wrote and sent some poems styled after Negro spirituals, his "Freedom Songs", and sent them to Williams, giving Williams the rights. Eventually, Alexander Peloquin agreed to compose music for the poems. Many problems and misunderstandings arose along the way. There was much confusion over rights and control of the project with claims by Williams, at times, that Merton and Peloquin, two white men, were continuing a tradition of racial exploitation. Tensions were abated, in the end. Merton arranged with Coretta Scott King that a tribute concert be performed in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. On August 20, 1968, the concert was conducted by Peloquin and sung by the Ebenezer Baptist Choir (from King's church in Atlanta) and members of Peloquin's choir for the National Liturgical Conference in Washington, D.C.


Robert Lawrence Williams was, at the time of writing to Merton, a tenor vocalist. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but writes to Merton from Boston, Massachusetts, and later from New York. He served as president of the Foundation for African Students of Brighton, Massachusetts. (Source: The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 587.)

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Related Information and Links

See also the "Ford, John J.", "McElroy, Frank", "Peloquin, C. Alexander", and the "Yungblut, June" files; and see also published letters from Merton to Williams in The Hidden Ground of Love, pp. 587-607; and see also an unabridged version of the 1 May 1967 letter published in Signs of Hope, pp. 180-1.

Other Finding Aids

If the person in correspondence with Merton has full text records in the Merton Center Digital Collections, there will be a numeric link to them below.

Series List

This Record Sub-Group is not divided into Series and is arranged chronologically.

Container List

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#DateFrom/ToFirst LinesPub ✓Notes
 y/m/dMerton Scan ✉ 
1. 1964/03/14 TLS to Merton The National Foundation For African Students would like to commission you to write for us a series «detailed view»
2. 1964/03/21 TL[c] from Merton Thanks for your letter and for your request, which I hope I will be able to fulfill. I have been «detailed view»
3. 1964/03/31 (#01) TLS to Merton Thank you for your letter and for your promise to help us. Dear Father Louis, due to «detailed view»
4. 1964/03/31 (#02) other to Merton ROBERT LAURENCE WILLIAMS [-] TENOR [-] THE LITTLE THEATRE, McCORMICK PLACE «detailed view»
5. 1964/03/31 (#03) other to Merton BOSTON GROUP [-] Plans Jordan Hall Benefit Concert [-] TO AID «detailed view»
6. 1964/04/23 TAL[c] from Merton Don't let me keep you waiting too long for this letter. Thanks for your own letter and its «detailed view»
7. 1964/05/14 TLS to Merton Thank you very much for your kind letter and for the beautiful poems enclosed. Please forgive «detailed view»
8. 1964/06/09 TLS to Merton Thank you so very much for your book, "A Thomas Merton Reader" for which I'm enclosing a Money «detailed view»
9. 1964/07/08 TL[c] from Merton I heard from Aaron Copeland. He wished us luck with our project, but said that he could not «detailed view»
10. 1964/07/30 TAL[c] from Merton Don't apologize for the letter you wrote about Aaron Copeland. Naturally you were disappointed. «detailed view»
11. 1964/08/10 TL to Merton Just wanted you to be the first to know that we now have a wonderful opportunity to put our work «detailed view»
12. 1964/08/16 TAL[c] from Merton I am delighted to hear the good news of the possibility that your African work will be under «detailed view»
13. 1964/08/19 TL to Merton I am very happy that Vera Zorina liked the songs. I knew that she would. If it is alright with you «detailed view»
14. 1964/10/11 TLS to Merton I would like to come to Kentucky to visit you either the last week in November or the first week in «detailed view»
15. 1964/10/24 TL to Merton I know that this time of the year must be very busy for you, so I won't bother to come to talk «detailed view»
16. 1964/10/27 TL to Merton Thanks for your letter, which arrived only a few minutes ago. I had just finished talking with my «detailed view»
17. 1964/10/28 TAL[c] from Merton I was glad to get your letter of the 11th, which was written evidently in good spirits, and I am «detailed view»
18. 1964/10/30 TL[c] from Merton Your two letters have arrived. I am glad you reconsidered your decision to do the songs «detailed view»
19. 1964/11/21 (#01) TAL[c] from Merton Many thanks for your letter of some weeks ago. I do not remember whether I actually answered it or «detailed view»
20. 1964/11/21 (#02) other[x] from Merton EIGHT FREEDOM SONGS [-] by Thomas Merton [-] These songs are all based on Biblical themes, «detailed view»
21. 1964/12/21 TL[c] from Merton I owe you several letters now. Please forgive the delay, I have been particularly busy, also I am «detailed view»
22. 1965/01/15 TLS to Merton Thank you so very much for the book "Seeds of Destruction". I have read it through several times «detailed view»
23. 1965/01/29 TL[c] from Merton Your wonderful letter of January 15th has been waiting for an answer. The retreat was fine, «detailed view»
24. 1965/02/12 TLS to Merton Thank you so very much for your letter. I am happy that you enjoyed the Retreat and ever so «detailed view»
25. 1965/03/10 TL[c] from Merton Thanks for your letter of almost a month ago. I was delighted to heat that you and Tom McDonnell «detailed view»
26. 1965/03/21 TL to Merton Please forgive my delay in writing, but we have been getting ready for our concert, which is next «detailed view»
27. 1965/04/28 other[x]   Thomas Merton to Write Words for 'Freedom Songs' PROVIDENCE, R. I. (Religious News Service) [photocopied news clipping (hand labelled "N.Y.T. 4-28-65" [New York Times]) discussing the collaboration between Thomas Merton and C. Alexander Peloquin] «detailed view»
28. 1965/04/30 other[x]   Monk, Composer Collaborate On Freedom Songs PROVIDENCE, R. I. (NC) - Church music composer [news clipping printed from the online edition of the Catholic Northwest Progress (Seattle, Washington) discussing the collaboration between Thomas Merton and C. Alexander Peloquin on freedom songs] «detailed view»
29. 1965/05/22 TL to Merton Just a few lines to say hello and to let you know that I arrived all okay. Paris is very beautiful «detailed view»
30. 1965/05/27 TL[c] from Merton It was great to get your letter from Paris, and to hear that you have a powerful sponsor. «detailed view»
31. 1965/06/08 (#01) TL to Merton Thank you so very much for your beautiful letter, which arrived this morning. I am here in Dublin «detailed view»
32. 1965/06/08 (#02) other to Merton [Two news clippings] Music [-] It seems to me that Robert Lawrence Williams does not yet fully [two clippings from The Boston Pilot, the official newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston - one is a review of a William concert in Boston and the other is titled, "Merton, Peloquin Write Cycle of 'Freedom Songs'"] «detailed view»
33. 1965/06/30 TL[c] from Merton I hope you are enjoying Ireland and that your concerts aregoing [sic] well. This is just a note «detailed view»
34. 1965/12/12 TC to Merton I have returned home to America, to find that Mr. Peloquin has turned our Freedom Songs «detailed view»
35. 1965/12/17 TL[c] from Merton Your card and note came as a considerable surprise to me, since I had heard absolutely nothing «detailed view»
36. 1966/01/15 TL[c] from Merton Thanks very much for your letter of the 6th. I was relieved to hear from you and to know that you «detailed view»
37. 1966/05/31 TL to Merton Just a very few lines to say hello and to let you know that Mr. Peloquin is still working «detailed view»
38. 1966/06/19 TL[c] from Merton It was very good to hear from you after all these months. I had been wondering what happened «detailed view»
39. 1966/07/08 TL to Merton Thank you so very much for your letter and for the check for $30.00 which has been deposited «detailed view»
40. 1966/07/14 TL[c] from Merton We are having really African heat here now. Unofficially up to 104 around the monastery yesterday «detailed view»
41. 1966/08/09 (#01) TL to Merton Your picture arrived too late for the first printing of the booklets, so I used my photo instead. «detailed view»
42. 1966/08/09 (#02) other to Merton "Reflections on Love" [-] Eight Sacred Poems by THOMAS MERTON [-] The Little Monk of Our Lady of Merton's "Freedom Songs" published by Williams / 2 copies «detailed view»
43. 1966/09/29 TL to Merton I hope this letter will bring you up to date on our work and our plans for the money from the poems, «detailed view»
44. 1966/10/01 TL[c] from Merton Today I wrote the letter you requested to Mr McElroy. I certainly wish you success in your new «detailed view»
45. 1966/10/10 TL to Merton Thank you so very much for your faith in thinking the correct way, that no harm was intended on my «detailed view»
46. 1966/10/13 TL[c] from Merton Thanks very much for your kind letter of the 10th. I am glad you were not offended by my letter. «detailed view»
47. 1966/10/17 (#01) TL to Merton Thank you for your letter, which arrived several minutes ago. Along with it came the enclosed «detailed view»
48. 1966/10/17 (#02) TLS from Held, Kathy I edit New City, a magazine concerned with urban social problems and published in Chicago. «detailed view»
49. 1966/10/23 TL[c] from Merton I was in the hospital for tests when your letter came so I am a little late answering it. «detailed view»
50. 1967/04/20 TL to Merton Kindly forgive me for not writing up until now, but I have lost faith in everything except God «detailed view»
51. 1967/05/01 TL[c] from Merton I do not want to delay any longer in answering your deeply moving letter. First of all, I realize «detailed view»
52. 1967/08/29 TL to Merton A very few lines to say hello and to let you know that I am still among the living. I am still «detailed view»
53. 1967/09/05 TL[c] from Merton I was happy to get your letter-- a very moving and deep letter too. It shows once again «detailed view»
54. 1968/03/15 TL[x] from Merton Peloquin has written to me about the Songs. He is working on them for the Liturgical Conference [see "Peloquin, Alexander" file for Merton's carbon, which was filed with Peloquin's letters (Merton wrote Peloquin on the same day and possibly copied Peloquin on this letter) / the letter was added to the Williams file on 19 February 2020] «detailed view»
55. 1968/03/23 TL to Merton There is one part of your recent letter that I don't agree with. Where you say that what has «detailed view»
56. 1968/03/27 TL[c] from Merton The note I sent you thismorning [sic] was probably so illegible that your won't be able to read it, «detailed view»
57. 1968/03/28 TL to Merton I ask your forgiveness for my recent letter. I was thinking only of my self. I can imagine «detailed view»
58. 1968/03/30 TL to Merton I received your second letter this morning and it destresses [sic] me that you feel that I am «detailed view»
59. 1968/04/01 TL[c] from Merton Your letter which I received Saturday meant more to me than I can ever say. It is one of the most «detailed view»
60. 1968/04/02 TL[c] from Merton I guess there was a mix up and our letters crossed. But I hope that by now you have my other «detailed view»
61. 1968/04/15 TL[c] from Merton I know you said you didn't want to hear more about the songs, but there is one development I think «detailed view»
62. 1968/05/05 TL[c] from Merton I do not have too definite news about he songs except that Coretta King has approved the memorial «detailed view»
63. 1968/07/14 TL to Merton I must ask your forgiveness again for my recent letter for there I go again raving about the songs «detailed view»
64. 1968/07/16 TL[c] from Merton It is a hot Kentucky night, the really stuffy kind that you know, and there is not much point «detailed view»
65. 1968/07/31 TLS from Ford, John J. This office represents Rev. M. Louis, O.C.S.O. (Thomas Merton), Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, [copy sent to Merton - see "Ford, John J." file] «detailed view»
66. 1968/08/01 TL[x] from Merton This may cross with a letter from you, but it is necessary for me, I think, to clarify a little. «detailed view»
67. 1968/08/12 TALS[x] from Ford, John J. I am in receipt of your letter to Father Louis, O.C.S.O., regarding the Thomas Merton Freedom Songs, [copy sent to Merton - see "Ford, John J." file] «detailed view»
68. 1968/08/20 TL[c] from Merton Great. Bravo. I am delighted that you have made up your mind to assert your ownership of the songs «detailed view»
69. 1968/08/26 TL[c] from Merton First, I want to congratulate you on the good news of your Carnegie Hall Concert coming up. «detailed view»
70. 1968/08/28 TALS[x] from Ford, John J. Father M. Louis, O.C.S.O., called yesterday, indicating to me that you had finally decided, after [copy sent to Merton - see "Ford, John J." file] «detailed view»
71. 1984/04/23 TALS to Merton I am a Catholic priest and a professor at Nazareth College of Rochester. I am also an author «detailed view»
72. 2023/08/01 other   I took a mid-July road trip swing through parts of the East and worked in some short research «detailed view»
73. undated/no/no other to Merton [black and white photograph of Robert Williams] «detailed view»
74. undated/no/no other to Merton CONSTITUTION OF THE FOUNDATION FOR AFRICAN STUDENTS [-] Article 1 «detailed view»

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