Atlanta…On April 16, The King Center will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” with a display showcasing the historical occasion and a call to the nation urging people everywhere to read the Letter at The King Center’s website address http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/letter-birmingham-city-jail-1. The King Center will also play an audio recording of Dr. King reading excerpts of his letter throughout the day.’
King’s letter has been reprinted in hundreds of anthologies and is considered a classic reference work for clergy who embrace the “Social Gospel.” The City of Birmingham will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” when Dr. King’s daughter, King Center CEO Bernice A. King unveils a historic destination marker at the old jail building where MLK wrote his famous letter. Ms. King is also participating in panel discussions and other forums on the Letter and the Birmingham campaign.
“My father’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ still has tremendous resonance and a sense of urgency a half-century after it was written,” said Ms. King. “Although we are no longer struggling to desegregate public facilities, his challenge to clergy to address racism and social injustice is as relevant to our times as the day it was written. My hope is that people everywhere, especially clergy, will read his Letter today with a renewed commitment to work for social justice and a more nonviolent society.”
Dr. King wrote the letter while he was incarcerated as a result of his role in the Birmingham campaign, a nonviolent protest against racial segregation by the City of Birmingham and city retailers, conducted by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dr. King said his letter was a “response to a published statement by eight fellow clergymen from Alabama (Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Holan B. Harmon, the Reverend George M. Murray, the Reverend Edward V. Ramage and the Reverend Earl Stallings) was composed under somewhat constricting circumstance. Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly Negro trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me…”
The clergymen’s statement had criticized “outsiders” who created tension and trouble in Birmingham. The clergymen acknowledged that there was racial injustice in Birmingham, but they criticized the protest as “untimely,” counseled patience and urged Birmingham’s African American citizens to wait. King responded that he was invited to demonstrate in Birmingham and he invoked Reinhold Niebuhr, Thomas Aquinas and the Apostle Paul in saying he believed that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider…” He affirmed his conviction that "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
To the clergymen’s statement that the nonviolent demonstrations were “extreme,” Dr. King responded that Jesus, too, was an extremist, and "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?”
King concluded his letter: “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”
For more information, please contact The King Center at (404) 526-8900.