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Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is the active, public, conscientious breach of the
law to bring about a change in law or public policy. Henry David
Thoreau coined the term in 1848 in his essay about his refusal as an
abolitionist to pay the poll tax. Thoreau argued that citizens ought
deliberately to break laws that conflict with their moral beliefs.
Gandhi used nonviolent civil disobedience to protest racial pass laws
in South Africa and in India’s independence struggle, including
the famous Salt March against the British monopoly on salt. Dr. King
and others made civil disobedience a cornerstone of the Civil Rights
Movement, defying Jim Crow laws through sit-ins, violating laws and
court orders prohibiting marches and boycotts, and accepting jail
sentences to highlight racial injustice. In his Letter from Birmingham
Jail, King explains the moral arguments for civil disobedience and
distinguishes between just and unjust laws.

Associated Archive Content : 134 results

Letter from an Asylum Inmate to MLK Seeking Assistance

Paul Douglas Ware, an untried inmate, requests Dr. King's "understanding, moral support, and possible assistance." Mr. Ware informs Dr. King of detailed information regarding his unjust treatment, his personal life, his present state of mind and most importantly his desire to have a stronger bond with "his own people."

Letter from Angie Elizabeth Shelton to MLK

Mrs. Shelton expresses her gratitude to Dr. King for renewing her faith. After reading one of Dr. King's books, she states that she felt herself beginning to believe. Mrs. Shelton has decided to buy and study "Civil Disobedience" thanks to Dr. King.

Letter from Bill Kunstler to MLK

Famed civil rights attorney William Kunstler states that this was the first time a federal court enjoined prosecution of contempt cases under a state injunction. He would like to use the same procedures in Mississippi.

Letter From Birmingham City Jail

Dr. King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is a response to a statement written by several Alabama Clergymen. In that statement, the Clergymen assert that Dr. King's methods are both "unwise and untimely." They brand him an "outside agitator" who should not be advocating the breaking of the law. Dr. King responds with this Letter and politely references Biblical, Classical and early American figures to counter the arguments of the Clergymen.

Letter from C. B. Olmstead to MLK

Olmstead writes that he is unable to reconcile Dr. King's support of civil disobedience with his plans for peaceful demonstrations. He contends the purpose of King's sustained agitation is to provoke violence. He feels the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should become the mechanism for opposing discrimination, not further boycotts and sit-ins.

Letter from C.A. Echols to MLK

C.A. Echols requests a copy of Dr. King's publication "The Time for Freedom Has Come" to be included in his upcoming thesis "Thoreau and Civil Disobedience."

Letter from Carl Shipley to MLK

Carl Shipley, Head of the Republican State Committee for the District of Columbia, thanks Dr. King for his address at the National Press Club. Shipley expresses that despite the reservations of many individuals regarding Dr. King's emphasis on civil disobedience, the overall support of his speech was highly satisfactory.

Letter from Charles Crawford to MLK

Charles S. Crawford expresses his dissent with Dr. King on a variety of subjects, one specifically his stance towards President Johnson and the concept of civil disobedience.

Letter from Charles Wallace to MLK

Charles Wallace, a retired white high school teacher from California, offers his support to Dr. King for the implementation of the 1968 Poor People's Campaign. Wallace emphasizes that he has been a faithful supporter and participant in the civil rights movement. Wallace proposes to assist in the mobilization efforts to structure the campaign.

Letter From Christine Heath to MLK

Ms. Christine Heath, a high school student, asks for information on how "Civil Disobedience," by Henry David Thoreau, has affected Dr. King.

Letter from Dan H. Elkind to MLK

Mr. Elkind discusses recent actions of the SNCC and the SCLC's plans for a massive civil disobedience campaign. He believes that the actions made by the SNCC will lead to violence and also "alienate" supporters of civil rights legislation. He views Dr. King's plans for a massive civil disobedience campaign to be unlawful, and therefore suggests a different approach for Dr. King to take.

Letter from Dr. King to anonymous

In a handwritten draft addressed simply to "gentleman," Dr. King expressed gratitude for having received a copy of a study entitled "Civil Disobedience: Morality and the Coming of the Civil War." So impressed with the contents of the book, Dr. King made it available to staff as reference resource.

Letter from Edward Wright to MLK

Edward Wright, a member of the Black Panther Party, request Dr. King helps his leader, Huey P. Newton. Newton was wrongfully charged with murder of an Oakland city policeman during the fight for freedom.

Letter from Ella Jackson to MLK

Miss Ella Jackson, a 7th grader, writes to Dr. King concerning his leadership and involvement in civil disobedience. She advises Dr. King to speak to someone in power, otherwise his actions will lead to war.

Letter from Fr. John McNamara to MLK

Fr. McNamara, Catholic Chaplain at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola, writes Dr. King to extend congratulations on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Letter from Frank H. Epp to MLK

On behalf of the Canadian Board of Christian Service, Frank H. Epp writes Dr. King inviting him to a series of scheduled discussions in Winnipeg in January of 1966.

Letter from Gerald Gotting to MLK

Gerald Gotting writes a letter in German requesting a peaceful end to the Vietnam war.

Letter from James C. Soutar to MLK

James C. Soutar expresses gratitude for Dr. King's work and requests an autographed photograph to frame along with notable teachers like Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Abraham Heschel. All of these teachers were heavy influencers of Dr. King.

Letter from Jeriann Kelsey to MLK

Jeriann Kelsey writes Dr. King to contrast and compare her experiences raising her son in Mississippi to the Civil Rights Movement and the war in Vietnam. She includes a photo of her son to show that a son "I have seen and touched and loved" is more important to her than "a war I've merely heard about."

Letter from John T. Walker to MLK

On behalf of the Washington Cathedral. John Walker extends an invitation for Dr. King to preach at the Cathedral and articulate the true premise of the Poor People's Campaign to their congregation. Walker believes that Dr. King's physical presence will help eliminate doubts that this civil disobedience campaign will turn to violence. Dr. King is would eventually preach the final sermon of his life on March 31 at the Washington Cathedral under the subject "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution."

Letter from M. Emelene Wishart to MLK

M. Emelene Wishart is concerned that Dr. King is weakening the fight for civil rights by campaigning to end the Vietnam War. Wishart asks Dr. King if he is attempting to "embarrass the US administration or beat Carmichael in the civil disobedience game."

Letter from M. Rogers to MLK

M. Rogers objects to Dr. King's teachings and infers he should study the New Testament of the Bible. Mr. Rogers perceives that what Dr. King preaches causes "more resentment between the different races." He further elaborates on how he envisions the affects of "non-violence" and "civil disobedience."

Letter from Mary Grooms to Coretta Scott King

Mrs. Mary H. Grooms writes Mrs. Coretta Scott King expressing her support for Dr. King and the upcoming March on Washington. She also requests that Dr. King reach out to leaders in the North who have sought to emulate his methods.

Letter from MLK to Mr. Jack H. O'Dell

In response to recent allegations, Dr. King and members of the SCLC Administrative Committee conduct a formal investigation on Mr. O'Dell's reported association with Communist affiliates. Dr. King regrettably informs him that due to this speculation, despite lack of concrete results, he must permanently resign from his position with the SCLC's New York office.

Letter from MLK to Robert F. Kennedy

Dr. King informs Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy that if the proposed Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is "weakened at any point" that civil disobedience will follow and it will be the fault of those that "watered down the bill."

Letter from Peter S. Shults to NAACP

Peter Shults writes the NAACP requesting a comment on a postcard he received that depicts Dr. King as a communist. He asks multiple questions regarding the validity of the picture on the postcard.

Letter from Ralph D. Abernathy and MLK to Howard W. Creecy

Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy inform Reverend Creecy they will be serving a five day jail sentence for breaking an injunction against demonstrating in Birmingham, Alabama. It is for this reason that the Clergymen's Conference will have to be moved to a later date.

Letter from Robert Kennedy to MLK

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy writes to Dr. King regarding a case of civil disobedience in Albany, Georgia. He discusses the boycotting of Carl Smith's supermarket due to Smith serving as a juror in the civil action case of Ware vs. Johnson.

Letter from Rosamond Reynolds to MLK

Rosamond C. Reynolds informs Dr. King that the Fifth General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association adopted a comprehensive Statement of Consensus on Racial Justice. The statement reflects "the preponderance of opinion of the denomination, its members, and its churches, on the problems of segregation, discrimination, racial violence, education, housing..."

Letter from Sarvajanik Kalyan Samiti to MLK

The Indian organization, Sarvajanik Kalyan Samiti, expresses admiration of Dr. King's heroic struggle for civil rights in the US, along with his application of Mahatma Gandhi's methods. A bronze bust of Gandhi is offered as a gift of appreciation and a request made for placement of the statue in a children's park.

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