On this, Martin Luther King’s day of honor, I offer as a remembrance his Letter from Birmingham Jail. It fired my activism in my youth and keeps the embers of my soul burning in my late middle age.
Written in April 16, 1963–less than five years before his death–King’s letters is not as well known as his magnificent I have a Dream speech. Yet, written from the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was confined for his part in a planned non-violent protest against racial segregation by Birmingham’s city government and downtown retailers, it resonates today. Try to imagine writing something of this moral clarity and eloquence on strips of paper and toilet tissue while cramped in a Southern cell in the Sixties!
The letter is a response to a message from eight white Alabama clergymen four days earlier, titled “A Call For Unity.” The clergymen agreed that social injustices existed but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not in the streets. King responded that without nonviolent forceful direct actions such as his, true civil rights could never be achieved. As he put it, “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’” He asserted that not only was civil disobedience justified in the face of unjust laws, but that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
Here is the timeless text: Continue reading