Letter from Birmingham Jail

April 16, 1963

MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants — for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken .in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor. will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression ‘of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this ‘hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble-rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides–and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some—such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle—have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative .critics who can always find. something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious. irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it vi lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, ham and all over the nation, because the goal of America k freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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17 Responses to Letter from Birmingham Jail

  1. Jacob Hoelting April 20, 2017 at 7:36 pm #

    There is no question that the racial segregation that occurred during Martin Luther King Jr.’s time was horrendous and abhorrent, but during the modern age it is hard to imagine the strife that these minorities went through. However, thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we can step back in time and imagine the adversity that they had to face every day in his ever popular “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. Through Dr. King’s strong emotions and elegant writing the reader can truly feel the emotions King felt. The plight of the minority African American in The United States can be truly felt by the whole heart of the reader throughout the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. Martin Luther King Jr. writes and addresses his letter to the eight white clergy members that told King that his actions should “wait” for racial equality. Dr. King responds to these prejudices with strong emotion and explains his distaste for their viewpoints with elaborate detail. One way he expresses his confusion with their statement is with an anecdote about his daughter asking King why she could not “go to the public amusement park that [was] advertised on television” and Martin Luther King Jr. telling her “that Funtown is closed to colored children”. When reading these statements by King the reader can truly feel the tears welling up in his eyes only imagining the feeling of telling their own daughter that she is not permitted to go to a public amusement park because of the color of her skin. It is so hard to think about all of the ways a young girl can think about herself and the world differently with the lenses of discrimination that can distort the images inside of a young person’s mind. While reading this short, yet powerful antidote, a number of emotions are felt including melancholy and bleak. King uses this story to show his oppressors that his patience with the word “wait” has worn very thin and there is no more time that is allowed for waiting: action needs to happen now, not just for him, but also for the later generations. Then more emotions spring up. There is a point when Rev. King is called an extremist and argues against this point highlighting the good he is doing. At first Martin Luther King Jr. rejects the notion of being called and extremist, but then something changes in him and he begins to accepts, nay, enjoy the title of extremist. He does not view himself as an extremist that brings about harm; instead, he touches on the good side of extremism. Rev. King highlights the life of Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson also calling them extremists. King states, “Was not Jesus an extremist in love… Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist ‘This nation cannot serve half slave and half free’… Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal’”. Martin Luther King Jr. is excited to be called an extremist because being anything shy of an extremist is doing nothing. The last thing that King wants is his civil rights movement to be nothing: there would be nothing worse. To Rev. King an extremist is either one of good intention or one of ill intention and to be an extremist of good intention is to be the right extremist on the list with these high and lofty historical figures. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is undoubtedly a text/letter filled with some of the strongest emotions that a person can feel. Rev. King writes this letter in response to the bigotry of the white clergymen who seek to end his movement for racial equality. In response Martin Luther King Jr. says that how could he in good conscience give up on the people trusting him to be their voice and not only that, but how could he give up on the future generations? They can call him anything they want but King lets it be known that he is not going anywhere until the issues in America are fixed.

  2. Ryan Appello April 21, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

    In a government run by the people, for the people, it is important for the people to actively voice both their pleasure and displeasure to what is happening within the government. A government is meant to create laws and policy that protect every person equally and isn’t allowed to target any specific group for a negative reason. It is the job of the citizens of this country to make sure the government is not engaging in these activities. In Dr. King’s letter, he talks about just this. The power and necessity of civil disobedience. He is asked by clergymen why he is in Birmingham, as he is seen as an outsider causing trouble. His response was very powerful, saying, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” Dr. Kings encompasses a belief that it is the duty of the citizens to stand up for what they believe in, and in this case, resist racial segregation in Birmingham. These segregation laws were clearly passed by the government, so, King believes if a group of people see them as being unjust, it is their responsibility to disobey in order for them to be taken away.

    Many people believe that civil disobedience isn’t the right path towards change. This is because it requires breaking the law repeatedly until change is found. It’s understandable to be against it considering this, however, when you look at Dr. King’s situation, along with the rest of the Civil Rights Movement, it was clear they had no other option to find results. In order to garner support nationwide and actually make a meaningful change, it couldn’t be done through the courts. This is because of a few factors. First, in many cases, the courts where the civil rights cases were being heard were mostly comprised of people who believed in segregation. This is because the cases were heard in areas where segregation was legal. Along with this, it took way too long for the courts to make changes. A case could take several years to actually be heard and then it would take years more to enforce their decision. These people needed immediate change in order to improve their lives and escape the unfair treatment they were suffering.

    It’s sad to say, but this movement was forced to break the law in order to seek justice. In a county built on freedom and individual rights, it is downright disappointing for it to have to come to this. However, the people in Birmingham and the rest of the country did as courageous thing in putting their freedom at risk in order to make a meaningful change. It wasn’t until after this happened that both the government and the rest of the population realized how important this problem was. Dr. King embodies this courage and perseverance through all of his actions and puts them into words in this powerful, iconic letter. This was truly a dark time in American history, but at the same time, could also be considered a bright spot. This is because it marked a huge change to the social environment in our country and greatly improved the lives of millions of people.

  3. Owen Balseiro April 21, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    IT is hard to overstate how much of an impact Martin Luther King Jr. had on the United States. Martin Luther King Jr is in many ways to the United States what Gandhi is to India. And Martin Luther King Jr is a perfect example of how you use the freedom of speech in tandem with the freedom of association. And I believe that what he taught the United States and the world has been lost to us here in the United States. One excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr’s letter stood out. “I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes.” Here Martin Luther King Jr talks of discipline in the face of violence against a peaceful protest. Unlike today where “peaceful” protests are often turn violent the second any opposition turns up. The people of the civil rights movement and the people who followed Martin Luther King Jr knew what form protesting should take in a democracy. Instead of burning down their communities, homes and stores, they organized marches, sit ins and speeches. And they got results. Instead of attacking people with opposing viewpoints and trying to dehumanize them with names, The people of the civil rights movement and the people who follow Martin Luther King Jr, took the violence and turned the other cheek, They took the violence thrown at them and simply stuck to their plan and refused to let anyone change it. They got the results that they wanted.

    What irritates me to no end are the endless comparisons of Trump and his supporters to Hitler and Nazis. People who do this have to have all failed history class. Hitler was a terrible human being and don’t get me wrong Trump is no angel and I have several problems with the way he handles things, he is no Hitler and his supporters are nothing like the Nazis. His supporters don’t start riots and openly call for the deaths and attackings of his rivals. Trump won the election. I hope anyone reading this is getting to see a pattern. The pattern is that violence is a turn off. It’s only real use to to make people fear you, but fear always turns into hatred against the things that you once feared. You can see this during the fights in Berkeley, the people who support Trump are now fighting back against groups like ANTIFA and other violent groups like them. Violence only leads to more violence.

    VIolence only leads to more violence is probably one of the biggest lessons Martin Luther King Jr never said. But still taught a whole country. He continued to hammer into his followers to not react to the violence that was always thrown at them. Do not give the people who use violence any more justification for your actions. It will simply lead to more violence against you. Any escalation of a conflict by one side will always lead to the other side matching but more often escalating the conflict even further. Democracy is a very flawed system, but it is the best form of government humanity has been able to come up with and people need to trust in the system and if they have a problem with the system, use a peaceful way to express it.

  4. William Stuck April 21, 2017 at 5:02 pm #

    Even though they might not know any specific information, most people have at least heard of the “letter from Birmingham jail”. This open ended letter was written by Martin Luther King as a response to those who questioned his purpose and methods.

    King begins the letter by responding to a number of criticisms that he has received. The first of which being why he was in Birmingham in the first place. King responded by explaining that he goes wherever injustice is. Many Birmingham residents said that King should worry about his own city and leave them alone. King explains that he goes wherever there is injustice. He even supports this with a number of religious examples. I think that the use of biblical figures shows how well King knew his audience. The kind of people who wanted him gone probably had much more respect for the bible than they had for him. Drawing comparisons to things that they respected and understood helped him to prove his point. King goes on to respond to more criticism with a similar level of intelligence, reason, and insight. However, one of the most remarkable parts of the essay comes after that.

    At about the halfway point in this letter, King turns his attention towards those who sympathize with his cause. More specifically, people who know that the oppression is wrong but chose to do nothing about it. King tells them that freedom will never be theirs unless they take action and make their collective voice heard. When analyzed from a broader perspective, this shows just how well King understood the world. Most people think of freedom as something you get, a privilege extended to you by those in charge. This is not true. King wants people to understand that true freedom is something you make for yourself. American colonists earned freedom because they refused to back down. Similarly, King is saying that they must earn and maintain their freedom by demonstrating that they cannot be controlled. You become free by showing that you cannot be oppressed.

    Overall, this is a well written piece of literature with broader messages that we can all appreciate. Personally, I think that one of the best things to take with you after reading this is Kings idea of freedom. The power to cause meaningful change is in the hands of the people, but only if they realize it. I think that message is equally relevant in todays world. We’re all so complacent, willing to deal with things that we see as pointless and unjust. The power to make meaningful change has always belonged to the people, whether they realize it or not.

  5. John Phillips April 21, 2017 at 5:15 pm #

    Dr. Martin Luther King wrote a passionate letter from a Birmingham jail regarding his peaceful protests. On the surface, this letter appears to be directed at the clergymen who criticized his methods and message. It definitely is a piece directed at them, but it has deeper meaning. He is defending his methods by showing them he is educated in all aspects of religious studies, for example when he cites the Letters from Saint Paul. Dr. King is trying to tell them that he respectfully disagrees with their criticism and is using facts and passion to justify what he is fighting for. He was using nonviolent protests to address the issue of racial division and segregation in the United Sates. Dr. King is trying to explicate a message of equality and justice for people of all races, religions, and beliefs. This is where I believe he was trying to give a message that is universal to all people. His message was that of unity and peace. I also think his message can be interpreted as a call to people who may be of a group of people who discriminate but do not participate in it themselves. He is trying to reach out to these people and explain to them what the people who are segregated are going through. He is calling them and asking them to speak up and join the movement. It appears in this letter that Dr. King is acknowledging this notion that it would take help from people other than those who are discriminated. The passion and strong language he wrote this with makes it clear that he is trying to convince those who are truly good at heart but far what would happen to them if they tried to help. His message to them is that there is nothing to fear when you are fighting for what’s right. Dr. King believes that without equality and justice, society will not prosper. It is this message that led to his success.
    Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is one that is unmatched. He is truly representative of positive change in our country. He exemplified what it means to be an American. He stood up for what he believed in, started with a message and stuck with that message. In the end he got the results. He fought against oppression, seeking freedom and equality. It goes to show that being persistent, working hard, and being genuine will get you very far in life. We all have the potential to change the world, and Dr. King is someone we should all model ourselves after. Following his model, is a recipe for success. This letter was truly inspiring. It was more than just a message, he was making it clear that he would not back down from anyone. Equality will make us stronger as a society. He wanted them to know that the color of his skin, does not affect who he is. He is a citizen like everyone else. He upholds certain religious values that shaped him as a man. His message and presentation methods are truly inspiring. This incredible man is a staple of American history, and must forever be applauded for what he did.

  6. Matthew Radman April 21, 2017 at 5:24 pm #

    It is unanimously agreed upon today that Dr. King was the greatest catalyst for the advancement of the civil rights movement of the 1950s-1960s. He is the man who many most prominently associate with the legal change from the segregation that plagued the United States since the “Jim Crow laws.” As a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King vocalized his beliefs that peaceful protest puts pressure on politicians. The 1963 arrest of King happened in the midst of his struggle to convince his supporters to commit to the cause fully. In response to King being locked up, eight white, moderate clergymen wrote King a letter dismissing King and his followers’ actions as “unwise” and “untimely.” King’s response to this criticism displayed what separates him from other activists throughout Ameican history and what allowed the ideals of a minority group to win majority favorability in American law. King’s tone throughout was not one of resentful criticism, but instead of enlightening logic. He also fully embodies the struggles faced by the oppressed black community at the time being legitimately in the midst of the hatred. It is his authenticity combined with logical arguments that made his mission not only capable but gave it wide-scoping appeal.

    King assessed the criticism from the clergymen and tore apart their arguments point by point. The most infamous critique given to King is that his direct actions were “unwise and untimely. King rebutted this accusation with “patient and reasonable” terms. He reinterprets the clergyman’ words as, simply, “wait”; an action that King reminds them has described the progress of civil rights for 340 years previously. King asserts that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” The delay has been a sore on racial equality as its progress stalled by a stubborn moderate sect of politicians. King describes the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights’ plan for direct action towards merchants around the Easter holiday only to get postponed and moved to March before realizing it was an election month and then postponing again and again. The movement was not sudden or even fast-paced. The campaign was careful; too cautious, to a fault. The African-American community was tired of the delays during the history of civil rights advancement in America as mentioned by Dr. King, “Wait has almost always meant never.” King also makes practical use of anecdote in this letter, likening the campaign of civil rights to early Christians facing lions and torture to resist confinement by the Roman Empire’s unjust laws. These ancient struggles also bring to mind the more recent peaceful protests of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1940’s. Kings numerous examples of injustice follow factual points. The saturation of information in his writing functions as a method of bombarding the reader with so much relevant information, that it is impossible to misunderstand or ignore the situation that King fought so hard to end. While the emphasis on formal diction in the piece can lean opponents moderate, the emotional anecdote and stories force moderates to side with Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Similar to Socrates’s analogy of the cave, when people get hit with the truth, they see a whole new reality; one that beckons for help. King obviously believed that an appeal to pathos was not practical, seeing the torture ensued by emotionless police officers and having been insulted by the seeming uncaring men who told him that his approach was “unwise and untimely.” King instead implemented appeal to logos to capture the minds of people and then converted opposition using appeal to ethos to force them to consider how their actions display their individual characters.

    Dr. King could not have come from more authenticity. He was a southern born, peace-loving Baptist who watched first hand the climax of the cruelty of racial injustice in the twentieth century. The son of a reverend, he was born and raised believing in the goodness of a higher power and fully embodied the philosophy of non-violence and direct action while so many scared African-Americans either stayed compliant or lashed out violently. Instead of using emotion as a vehicle to carry his message, he used reason and logic. As a man who lived through the horrors and preached for many years about social justice, people trusted and followed King. Whether friend or foe, no one questioned the authenticity of Kings mission. Dr. King understood the troubles facing the black community during that time, so when he preached, he did so as an equal. King, in his day, would disagree that an elected official could gain as much traction as a man on the ground level.

  7. Erin Chan April 21, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

    What is the meaning of most of the democratic society? If only a number of concepts, it is inevitable that most people are suspected of tyranny. In the American black civil rights movement, the blacks are absolutely few in the face of ten times the whites. But someone told them that you are the most, the premise is with God. This man is Martin Luther King. When Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor of the Dirkst Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, a boycott of the bus began. He led the fight for a year, which made him a nationally famous figure. He then organized the Southern Christian Leaders’ Federation to become the leader of the rapidly expanding civil rights movement. King’s short and glorious life is enough to die, but the civil rights movement is not the result of any personal effort. Tocqueville regards democracy as a social state, and the people are the decisive factor in the existence of justice in a country. The change of the system is always based on the turning of the people, and the abolition of the apartheid system can not be separated from the change of the American social state. This change is not easy, often aroused great social unrest, and even cause bloody conflict, the state split. Gold’s nonviolent beliefs make nonviolent powerless, eventually free for blacks, and allow white people to be released from fear, thus bridging social rifts and changing the mental state of American society as a whole. Only 40 years later, the United States produced the first elected president of the black, is the most powerful example.

    What is the non-violent belief that King has kept his life, even in the face of death threats, and where does it come from? The answer is still with God. If there is no eternal hope, in the face of death, violent revenge may be the best choice. If death is the end, after the death of the monstrous man and the dead? The attitude of people to violence often depends on the understanding of death, is a complete despair, or believe that death is the ultimate hope forward. Desperate to produce resentment, hope to produce forgiveness. Resentment will only bind the soul, forgiveness but bring freedom. Resentment of the deepest victims is actually resentment myself, resentment itself will not hurt others, but the resentment of the soul of the loss of freedom. Thus, King objected to any attempt to free from hatred and hatred and violence.

    In 1963, King brought a non-violent and passive resistance to the country of severe desert and racial discrimination in Birmingham. Hundreds of people were arrested in a protest demonstrations. Martin Luther King wanted to go to jail with the black masses and then had a letter from the famous Birmingham prison. King would rather go to jail and not obey the court’s order to stop the show. In a separate day of imprisonment, King responded to a letter from seven important church members. In the letter they asked him to cancel the demonstrations and relied on negotiations and the court to solve the problem. King drafted his reply with Easter weekend time. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 because he led the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King is very clear that he challenged not only the legal system of apartheid, but also the heart of the apartheid. As a pastor, he always looked up to God, with non-violent beliefs completely changed the American people, save the black while also saving the white.

  8. Juan Landin April 21, 2017 at 8:58 pm #

    There are people who take action and those who do not. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a person who took action. This is why he accomplished so much during his life. During the letter, Dr. King states that some of his clergy men have questioned his actions and have asked why did he go and participate in these protests in Birmingham, AL. Dr. King gave his word to people in Birmingham that should they call, he would stand by his word and come to aid them in their non-violent protests. He did this because he knew that it was time to take action against this major issue that had been plaguing America at the time. Racism. The first slaves arrived in America in 1619. Dr. King wrote this letter in 1963, that means that African Americans had been oppressed for 344 years. In those 344 years they were probably many people who talked about taking action in order to gain the rights that they deserve. Many of those people probably had followings. However, those people either didn’t have enough power or courage to stand up and fight back. Dr. King did. He was tired of people talking about getting the freedom that they had been looking for since the slaves. Dr. King wanted to take action because he knew that the only way that he would be able to effectively fight for his people and show the rest of the country that they will no longer stay quiet while being oppressed, is by taking action. Dr. King did it with non-violent action, which angered many people. Many of the white people back then believed that blacks were savages and animals, so when they protested they expected to display such behavior. This behavior would allow them to fight back, violently, against the blacks. This would increase support of the whites because they would show how violent blacks are and lessen support for them. Dr. King knew that non-violent was the way to go in order to get his message everyone. Everyone is equal. When he did partake in these non-violent protests such as marches, sit ins, etc. many of the authorities used violent and unnecessary actions on them anyway to stop them. However, in this case it was shown how the authorities were now being the violent animals in terrorizing the protestors. When people saw this, they felt some sympathy for the protestors and their support grew. Dr.King knew how to get to the people in order to make them hear the struggles blacks were going through and understand why it is wrong. This is what separates him from everyone else. He was not afraid to take action in order to fight for what he believed was right. He knew that at any moment that his life could be taken and that no one would be punished. Though, he kept pushing forward and eventually staged one of the biggest marches on Washington. Here is where he gave his “I have a dream..” speech that changed the world. It opened people’s eyes on the harsh reality of the lives of black people. It made them understand why this treatment was wrong and that this country needed to change. Even today, Dr. King’s words still live on as a guide as to how everyone should be treated, equal.

  9. Daniel Alvarez April 22, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

    It’s hard to imagine just how much and to the degree of which minorities were actually discriminated against. When dealing with these fairly recent historical tragedies that don’t have a contemporary comparison, it’s helpful to put yourself and your family into the shoes of the victims. Imagine if you and your family were picking cotton on a farm, worn out, in all sorts of weather, at all seasons of the year, without the smallest hope of any improvement either in their condition, in their food, or in their clothing, and indebted solely to the forbearance or good temper of the overseer for exception from terrible physical suffering. This is what Fredrick Law Olmsted witnesses and wrote when he visited Mississippi in 1853. As distressing as this exercise may be, it highlights the horrifying conditions.
    My interpretation of the role of government is too aid its people and protect its people. If citizens don’t like a government policy then they can either do nothing or fight for what they believe is justice. A government is meant to create laws and policy that protect every person equally and isn’t allowed to target any specific group for a negative reason. The exact opposite was going on in the time of Dr. King Jr. Systematic oppression in its deepest degree was occurring and the likes of Dr. King and others such as Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman lead the charge against it. In Dr. King’s letter to the eight clergyman who he refers to as “men of genuine good,” he talks about law and civil disobedience. Most on the opposite side of Dr. King see him as an outsider causing trouble. His response was very powerful, saying, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” Dr. King encompasses a belief that it is the duty of the citizens to stand up for what they believe in, and in this case, resist racial segregation in Birmingham. These segregation laws were unjust and Dr. King was not going to do nothing. He compared his journey to the likes of St. Paul and other prophets who left their homes in order to carry to gospel of freedom beyond their hometowns. In another powerful quote he says “injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King believed direct action was necessary. Patience was no loner an option; he wanted to dramatize the issue so much that it could not be ignored as they had already been for 340 years. In this letter he connects with his enemies on so many levels, and points out the flaws in their logic that is why this is a magical piece. In another great analogy, in response to the anxiety felt by white men of Birmingham over the protestor’s willingness to break laws, he explains the early Christians were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. Both directs actions are simply explained through the fact that some laws are just and some laws are unjust.
    Overall, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is certainly a piece filled with some of the strongest emotions that a person can express in writing. Dr. King writes in response to the bigotry of the white clergymen who seek to end his movement for racial equality in favor of the status quo. Non-violent protest was his vehicle to drive change throughout society. This letter should inspire everyone to metaphorically fight for what you believe in; fight against unjust laws.

  10. Daniel Alvarez April 22, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

    It’s hard to imagine just how much and to the degree of which minorities were actually discriminated against. When dealing with these fairly recent historical tragedies that don’t have a contemporary comparison, it’s helpful to put yourself and your family into the shoes of the victims. Imagine if you and your family were picking cotton on a farm, worn out, in all sorts of weather, at all seasons of the year, without the smallest hope of any improvement either in their condition, in their food, or in their clothing, and indebted solely to the forbearance or good temper of the overseer for exception from terrible physical suffering. This is what Fredrick Law Olmsted witnesses and wrote when he visited Mississippi in 1853. As distressing as this exercise may be, it highlights the horrifying conditions.

    My interpretation of the role of government is too aid its people and protect its people. If citizens don’t like a government policy then they can either do nothing or fight for what they believe is justice. A government is meant to create laws and policy that protect every person equally and isn’t allowed to target any specific group for a negative reason. The exact opposite was going on in the time of Dr. King Jr. Systematic oppression in its deepest degree was occurring and the likes of Dr. King and others such as Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman lead the charge against it. In Dr. King’s letter to the eight clergyman who he refers to as “men of genuine good,” he talks about law and civil disobedience. Most on the opposite side of Dr. King see him as an outsider causing trouble. His response was very powerful, saying, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” Dr. King encompasses a belief that it is the duty of the citizens to stand up for what they believe in, and in this case, resist racial segregation in Birmingham. These segregation laws were unjust and Dr. King was not going to do nothing. He compared his journey to the likes of St. Paul and other prophets who left their homes in order to carry to gospel of freedom beyond their hometowns. In another powerful quote he says “injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King believed direct action was necessary. Patience was no loner an option; he wanted to dramatize the issue so much that it could not be ignored as they had already been for 340 years. In this letter he connects with his enemies on so many levels, and points out the flaws in their logic that is why this is a magical piece. In another great analogy, in response to the anxiety felt by white men of Birmingham over the protestor’s willingness to break laws, he explains the early Christians were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. Both directs actions are simply explained through the fact that some laws are just and some laws are unjust.

    Overall, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is certainly a piece filled with some of the strongest emotions that a person can express in writing. Dr. King writes in response to the bigotry of the white clergymen who seek to end his movement for racial equality in favor of the status quo. Non-violent protest was his vehicle to drive change throughout society. This letter should inspire everyone to metaphorically fight for what you believe in; fight against unjust laws.

  11. Anthony Laverde April 22, 2017 at 10:11 pm #

    Martin Luther King Jr. was absolutely essential in the equal rights movement, and this letter was one of, if not the most, famous pieces of literature to come from that time. Dr. King was a very smart man, and figured out quickly the correct way to gain sympathy and support from racist and indifferent white people. Unlike his contemporary Malcolm X, King decided to take a peaceful approach to his uprising, similar to Gandhi. He went to the most racist, hateful places in an effort to further advance his cause; places like Birmingham Alabama met him with unfathomable hatred and violence. In this letter, he addresses many of the topics his doubter and skeptics had constantly asked, and did so in a way that shed light to the true meaning of being not only a man of faith, but a moral human being. Throughout his lifetime, and this letter, he does things in hope of making others, white racists in particular, see the errors of their ways, and asking them to treat them as equal men, the way the church says so. This movement, when it was all said and done, was an enormous victory for not only black people, but all minorities, and woman, who were all in search of equality. This movement, led by Dr. King certainly would not be the last time black people would showcase their worth in order to prove their equality, and it was not the first. The movement took extreme influence from a movement that took place in the 1920’s called the Harlem Renaissance.

    Dr King was heavily influenced by this period of time that began to occur during the post World War 1 era in the united states. Although this was not an organized, or even acknowledged movement at the time, it is looked back as a renaissance because of the extremely beautiful literature (all types of art) that emerged from this period, as well it how it showcased the extreme talent of black artists at the tie. After seeing the extreme amount of success black people found in their contributions to the war, they felt a newfound level of confidence and self-worth that inspired them to showcase their various talents. These was an extreme sense of urgency among the black community, and the period gave birth to a lot of beautiful and inspiring literature. This literature, with its feeling of urgency and empowerment, would serve to inspire future black leaders, like Dr. King, who would further the betterment of the lives of black people.

    This sense of urgency translated over to the civil rights movement, where black people would again do whatever they could to accomplish their goal. This was a peaceful exemplification of talent and worth, similar to the Harlem renaissance, and it served to get the attention of the rest of America. Knowing the importance of literature, Dr. King also used this letter to produce another peace of black empowering literature that could serve to inspire future generations, the same way he was inspired. He knew the importance of showing off the worth black people had, across many different disciplines, and he devoted his life to bettering the situation of his people.

  12. Thomas Batelli April 23, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

    I am very appreciative of the sharing of this famous letter. I had read it once before, but it definitely sat with me on a different level this time. As I read through this letter, which was written fifty-four years ago, there are many comparisons I was able to pick up that still live and thrive in today’s culture. There were many aspects of this piece that resonated with me greatly. For starters, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” I thought that this speaks a lot on behalf of current culture. I think that as a whole, we exhibited poor behavior on behalf of much of the women’s peaceful protests that occurred on Washington. The negative attitude that we have as a society towards people supporting what they believe in PUBLICLY. I think many people, in a matter of fifty some years, have forgotten what it took to get to this point of “justice” in all aspects of equality- race, religion, gender, etc. and we’re still fighting! Also, with having technology at our disposal, we have become renown for recording everything… but when an injustice is occurring, how many people are the first to actively get involved? Another part of this piece that also resonated with me was, “You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes”. After I finished this sentence, I thought about the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protesters there that were attacked by the police and their k9 units. Even to this day, “we” (society) are still oppressing people by the power of privilege and greed. My favorite line in this writing was “So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo.” This quote speaks volumes, especially now fifty some years after it was said. The decline of the church in general could be rationalized in many ways; however, I think the important analysis of this segment is that it shines as an “arch-supporter” of the status quo. In other words, being a part of the church has become not much more than an ornament with a lacking influence otherwise. Martin Luther King predicted many truths in the future to come, but sadly there’s no way to turn back the time now. He feared that if church did not recapture the “sacrificial spirit of the early church” that all authenticity, loyalty, etc. would be completely evoked. Church has, because of this lost spirit, evolved into no more than an “irrelevant social club”.

  13. Matt Talarico April 23, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

    Back in the 1960s, Martin Luther King worked very hard in order to stop discrimination against blacks. While many minorities saw him as someone who gave the people who suffered, opportunity. On the other hand, many whites saw him as someone who was infiltrating their way of life, because he wanted to take away many of the luxuries the whites got in society, and give some back to the blacks. Many of these people wanted to retain their advantage within society, but the blacks only wanted equality, which is what Martin Luther King fought for.

    I really like how MLK says that he is in prison because of an injustice. Rather than saying he is in jail because of this person or this group, he does not point fingers at anyone, which I see as a good example. I believe that MLK is a true leader because he stayed true to his values that he had full faith in, and his persistence led to a reformation in American society. Not only did he relieve the blacks of their discrimination, but also he started a reformation within minorities and oppressed groups that are living with injustice. This letter is very analytical rather than an emotional rant. Building on the last paragraph, I think this is what Martin Luther King so great. Rather than giving into fear, he stays true to the right thing to do. What will happen long term is more important to MLK than his self, or the short term. The minorities had to go through a lot of really tough events in order to get their justice, and it is all because of MLK. Rather than submitting to radical groups like the Black Panthers, he stays true to pacifism.

    In all, Martin Luther King is a true American hero, and these letters sum up how great and how brave he really was. His activism started an era of peaceful protesting within the United States that has caused many minorities to gain equal rights in the United States

  14. Frankie Lisa April 28, 2017 at 1:08 am #

    Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Letter fromBirmingham Jail” while he was imprisoned in April of 1963. He addresses the letter to is fellow clergymen of all religions. King claims that he is the city of Birmingham because of all the injustice that is taking place. He criticizes the clergymen he addresses in the letter for their lack of concern. King claims “It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.” In his letter, King also outlines the four basic steps in any non violent campaign. These steps are collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. King believes that he and his followers have already gone through these four steps. He also states that Birmingham is the most segregated city in the United States, so direct action is needed in Birmingham. The negroes in Birmingham have received unfair treatment in the courts, also there has been more unsolved bombings of negro houses churches and businesses than any other city in the nation.
    The purpose of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham” jail was to make others aware of the social injustice against African Americans. However, I think Dr. King had a very specific target audience. This audience is not fellow African Americans nor is it radical white supremacists. His letter was meant for moderate white people. This was Dr. King’s target audience because this was the group of people that had the power to administer change. His letter was officially addressed to the clergymen who called his protests “unwise and untimely.” He tries to appeal to his audience by explaining why he feels the need to protest in his four basic steps. He also tries to appeal to this audience by referencing the bible and other Christian leaders. When justifying how he can break some laws and obey others he quotes St. Augustine “An unjust law is no law at all.” Dr. King also tries to appeal to his audience by denouncing the radical groups of African Americans. Specifically, Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement.
    He directly addresses the “white moderate” by saying a great obstacle to freedom is one “who is devoted more to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace.” A recurring theme throughout many of the works we have read concerns the bystanders of injustice. This letter is no different, Dr. King wants us to ask ourselves will we take action and stand up to injustice, or will we stand back and do nothing? He also supports the idea that ignorance and indifference are just as bad as not standing up to injustice at all.

  15. Alex Stephen April 28, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    In an administration kept running by the general population, for the general population, it is vital for the general population to effectively voice both their pleasure and disappointment to what is occurring inside the legislature. A legislature is intended to make laws and arrangements that secure each individual similarly and isn’t permitted to focus on a particular gathering for a negative reason. It is the occupation of the subjects of this nation to ensure the legislature is not taking part in these exercises. In Dr. King’s letter, he discusses recently the power and need of common insubordination. He is asked by priests for what reason he is in Birmingham, as he is viewed as an outcast bringing on inconvenience. His reaction was effective, saying, “I am in Birmingham since unfairness is here.” Dr. Lords incorporates a conviction that it is the obligation of the nationals to go to bat for what they have confidence in, and for this situation, oppose racial isolation in Birmingham. These isolation laws were obviously passed by the administration, along these lines, Lord accepts if a gathering of individuals consider them to be being uncalled for, it is their obligation to ignore with the goal for them to be taken away.

    Martin Luther King Jr. was vigorously impacted by this timeframe that started to happen amid the post World War 1 period in the assembled states known today as the United States. In spite of the fact that this was not sorted out, or even recognized development at the time, it is thought back as a renaissance due to a great degree his wonderful writing (a wide range of craftsmanship) that risen up out of this period, also it’s how it displayed the outrageous ability of dark specialists at the time. In the wake of seeing the extraordinary measure of achievement dark individuals found their commitments to the war, they felt a freshly discovered level of certainty and self-esteem that enlivened them to feature their different gifts. This was an outrageous feeling of criticalness among the dark group, and the period brought forth a great deal of excellent and motivating writing. This writing, with its sentiment direness and strengthening, would serve to motivate future dark pioneers, like Dr. King, who might promote the improvement of the lives of colored individuals.

  16. Alex Stephen April 28, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

    In an administration kept running by the general population, for the general population, it is vital for the general population to effectively voice both their pleasure and disappointment to what is occurring inside the legislature. A legislature is intended to make laws and arrangements that secure each individual similarly and isn’t permitted to focus on a particular gathering for a negative reason. It is the occupation of the subjects of this nation to ensure the legislature is not taking part in these exercises. In Dr. King’s letter, he discusses recently the power and need of common insubordination. He is asked by priests for what reason he is in Birmingham, as he is viewed as an outcast bringing on inconvenience. His reaction was effective, saying, “I am in Birmingham since unfairness is here.” Dr. Lords incorporates a conviction that it is the obligation of the nationals to go to bat for what they have confidence in, and for this situation, oppose racial isolation in Birmingham. These isolation laws were obviously passed by the administration, along these lines, Lord accepts if a gathering of individuals consider them to be being uncalled for, it is their obligation to ignore with the goal for them to be taken away.

    Martin Luther King Jr. was vigorously impacted by this timeframe that started to happen amid the post World War 1 period in the assembled states known today as the United States. In spite of the fact that this was not sorted out, or even recognized development at the time, it is thought back as a renaissance due to a great degree his wonderful writing (a wide range of craftsmanship) that risen up out of this period, also it’s how it displayed the outrageous ability of dark specialists at the time. In the wake of seeing the extraordinary measure of achievement dark individuals found their commitments to the war, they felt a freshly discovered level of certainty and self-esteem that enlivened them to feature their different gifts. This was an outrageous feeling of criticalness among the dark group, and the period brought forth a great deal of excellent and motivating writing. This writing, with its sentiment direness and strengthening, would serve to motivate future dark pioneers, like Dr. King, who might promote the improvement of the lives of colored individuals.

  17. Kyle R. April 12, 2019 at 10:56 pm #

    Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr, tells of similarities of difficulties related to poverty and race that many still face today. He tells of people that are challenged by problems because of the way they look, their back ethnicity or where they live. These people fight battles that shape their life circumstance and forces beyond their control. They try to demonstration and overcome what they are dealing with on a daily basis.
    People will put others down and say awful things since they cannot accept differences that exist in the world. Martin Luther King Jr says “When your first name becomes ‘nigger,’ your middle name becomes ‘boy’ (however old you are) and your last name becomes ‘John,’ and your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’. This is showing how people can be beyond disrespectful to others for the color of their skin when that is something they cannot even control. To be put down and insulted for something a person cannot even control is absurd. Just because something or someone is different some individuals assume it automatically makes it wrong or bad. This logic and closed mined thinking needs to change and be corrected in this world.
    When it comes to those who look down on others for being different, religion is one of the biggest and most well-known. Religion to some is a huge part of our culture. While some religions are closed off and do not include others, there are some that say to include everyone no matter what. To peoples surprise some religions do not accept everyone even though they teach that they accept everyone. Christianity is a prime example of this. This is a huge double standard though, how can you say one thing but then do another. Christianity teaches to be accepting of all but the religion its self does not accept all. This includes not only race but marriage as well as so many other examples. Letter from Birmingham Jail further supports this by saying “But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning foe the twentieth century”. Martin Luther King is saying that religion and church use to be sacred and meant something, however now it is turning its backs on some just like many others do. This should not be. Regions should be all accepting like they teach about. The world would be much different place if this was the case. While there are many who are always against others and do nothing but to put them down, on the other hand there are those who are very accepting and want nothing but the best for everyone.
    There will always be people that will put you down but it is up to you to prove them wrong. Letter from Birmingham Jail additionally backs this by saying “Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on the issue. I commend you Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis”. Martin Luther King Jr is praising the ones who support what he is doing and helping him along the way, despite what others are doing. Giving or saying something so small can mean all the difference for someone else. Having just one person to help and fight the problems one is facing can really change the perspective of how others view that situation. In today’s society, it is being more and more known that we are not equal or treated the same. This is something that has to change. We all need to be treated equal because in reality we are all the same. It is so easy to just help or support people yet so many choose not to. The problems and inequality will only change in this world, if we are the ones to change it.
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