April 1963: 'Letter From Birmingham Jail'

From "Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives: Findings in the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." (1979; full report here):

     Dr. King led an all-out attack in the spring of 1963 on racial discrimination in Birmingham, Ala., which he described as "the most segregated city in the United States." Civil rights activists sought removal of racial restrictions in downtown snack bars, restrooms and stores, as well as nondiscriminatory hiring practices and the formation of a biracial committee to negotiate integration. Sit-ins, picket lines and parades were met by the police forces of Eugene "Bull" Connor, commissioner of public safety, with hundreds of arrests on charges of demonstrating without a permit, loitering and trespassing.

     On Good Friday, April 12, 1963, Dr. King, Reverend Abernathy and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth were arrested for leading a demonstration in defiance of an injunction obtained by Bull Connor. Dr. King was placed in solitary confinement and refused access to counsel. During his incarceration, he penned his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," a response to a statement by eight leading local white clergymen -- Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish -- who had denounced him as an outside agitator and urged blacks to withdraw their support for his crusade. In this eloquent statement, Dr. King set forth his philosophy of nonviolence and enumerated the steps that preceded the Gandhian civil disobedience in Birmingham. Specifically citing Southern segregation laws, he wrote that any law that degraded people was unjust and must be resisted. Nonviolent direct action, Dr. King explained, sought to foster tension and dramatize an issue "so it can no longer be ignored."

From the Encyclopedia of Alabama (full entry here): 

     Early in his eight-day imprisonment, King read the white ministers' statement and began composing a response. He gave bits and pieces of the letter to his lawyers to take back to movement headquarters, where the Reverend Wyatt Walker began compiling and editing the literary jigsaw puzzle. The men settled on a final version on April 16, 1963. The 21-page, typed, double-spaced essay appears as though it is personal correspondence, addressed to the eight white ministers. It opens with a salutation reading "My dear fellow clergymen" and concludes with "Yours for the cause of peace and brotherhood." The final version of the letter explores two central themes: justification and admonishment. King justifies his presence in Birmingham, his uses of nonviolence and direct action, his timing, his willingness to break laws, and his apparent extremism. The civil rights leader also admonishes white moderates and white churches for not doing more to help the movement's quest for equality.

Image from The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Atlanta (link to two handwritten pages here)

King was released from jail on April 20. Portions of the letter were published in the New York Post Sunday Magazine on May 19. It was published in its entirety by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group, on May 28 (see link below).
* Summary (from Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University): @
* Letter (from MLK Research and Education Institute): @
* Annotated letter (from MLK Research and Education Institute): @
* Clergymen's letter (as published in Birmingham News, April 13, 1963; from Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections): @
* Text of both King's and clergymen's letters (booklet published by American Friends Service Committee, May 1963): @
* Readings of both letters (video from McCombs School of Business, University of Texas): @
* "Martin Luther King Arrested in Birmingham Demonstration" (Associated Press, April 13): @
* "Martin Luther King Released From Jail" (Associated Press, April 21): @
* "Martin Luther King, Walker v. City of Birmingham, and the 'Letter From Birmingham Jail" (David Benjamin Oppenheimer, U.C. Davis Law Review, 1993): @
* "Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the 'Letter From Birmingham Jail' " (S. Jonathan Bass, 2o01): @
* "Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation" (Jonathan Reider, 2013): @
* "Letter From Birmingham Jail: A Worldwide Celebration" (Birmingham Public Library): @ 
* Earlier post on King's letter from jail in Albany, Georgia (July 1962): @

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