Letter from Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King 1963

Letter from Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King 1963

The “Letter from Birmingham” is an important memento of the civil rights movement in America. The letter was written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most prominent civil rights activities of the 20th century. Before writing the letter, Dr. King openly led protests against the authorities to protest against the inadequate state of civil rights in America at the time. Consequently, he had been arrested and jailed as one of the leaders of the protest movement who protested against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. While Dr. King was in jail, some local white pastors wrote an open letter to him in one of the local daily newspapers. In the letter, the clergymen were highly critical of Dr. King, other leaders of the protests and the protest itself. Similarly, the pastors thought the protests were unwise and untimely and hat those who led them were “outsiders”.  In response, Dr. King also decided to write them a letter while he was in jail, which was then aptly referred to as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

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In the letter, Dr. King addressed the nature and reasons behind the anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Uniquely, the letter begins in a respectful note, with Dr. King trying to set an appropriate tone that opens reasonable dialogue and addressing the notion that he is not an outsider. He argued that he was in Birmingham because the injustice of segregation was present in the town. He outlines that the underlying causes of the protests were systemic racism that denied people of African heritage in America the right to pursue their dreams and ambitions. Furthermore, he notes that the protestors were standing up against racist laws and systems and that the protest was based on truth and justice. Additionally, Dr. King also chastised pastors in the South where segregation was rampant, particularly the white moderates, who believed that he was leading a just cause but were unwilling to support him fully because of the apparent tension that the protests caused. He argued that their passive stance on injustice was a dangerous threat to racial equality and demanded more from the church in social justice matters. Dr. King also affirms that segregation can be fought on the streets to produce results rather than on the courts like the clergymen were suggesting.

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