Letter from Birmingham Jail

April 17th, 2013 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Letter from Birmingham Jail

ML KingYesterday, April 16th, was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In 1963, Dr. King spent eight days in a Birmingham, Alabama jail cell, arrested for protesting the injustice and inequality that was stirring the Civil Rights Movement. While in his cell, Dr. King composed a letter, which initially was crafted as a response to eight local white clergymen who had denounced his nonviolent protest in the Birmingham News, demanding an end to the demonstrations for desegregation of lunch counters, restrooms and stores. The letter was initially conceived as a response to a letter from 8 white clergymen, who in a letter of their own to a local newspaper, claimed the protests were “unwise and untimely”. Dr. King’s response became known as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, and quickly became the quintessential model for civil disobedience. As Dr. King writes:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

There is much going on in our country right now, but it’s certainly worth remembering this truly great man, and understanding the eloquence that he brought to such an unjust period in American history. The “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is far more than just a letter responding to a few clergymen. It is now considered a document that can stand tall with both the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation as powerful statements of our freedom and our rights.

If you have the opportunity this week, I encourage you to read Dr. King’s letter. It inspired a generation and it has not lost even a hint of luster as one of the most powerful and persuasive written works on nonviolent resistance.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration this week, reading this should do it.