“Letter From a Birmingham Jail” #50thAnniversary

Hello all – this was supposed to be yesterday’s post however my schedule was thrown off and it just didn’t happen. In any event, in lieu of a “Weekly Recap” post and in large part because many of Dr. King’s words are still extremely relevant in this era, I am going to make it today’s post.

April 16th, 2013 marked the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr writing a response to eight white religious leaders of the South who viewed King’s actions as “unwise and untimely” and expressed their concern that outside agitators were negatively influencing the negro citizens of Birmingham. King “responded with his own letter citing philosophers, religious scholars and biblical figures to justify his actions.”

Below are a few excerpts from his letter with a link to the entire document at the end. I visited the National Civil Rights Museum last summer and one of the exhibits is a recreation of the Birmingham jail cell where King wrote passages of his letter along the margins of a newspaper which he gave to his lawyers who then passed them along to editors at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, I have included a few pictures from my trip.

16 April 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 statement 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.

To read the letter in its entirety, please click here:  “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

Thank you to Grant Barnes for pointing out this significant milestone to me.

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