The 60th Anniversary: MLK’s Letter From Birmingham Jail

As the younger generations take their place and their turn in the fight and struggle to maintain American Democracy, we, the standard bearers and warriors for freedom from an earlier era, have the obligatory duty and a moral imperative to teach and demonstrate to the young ones exactly what they’re up against.

In September of 1964, I began my academic life in higher education as a freshman at Howard University the number one HBCU, often referred to back then as the ‘Black Harvard’.

MLK s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was included in the list of required summer reading for ALL entering first year students:

“King’s letter, dated April 16, 1963, responded to several criticisms made by the “A Call for Unity” clergymen, who agreed that social injustices existed but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not the streets. He also criticizes the claim that African Americans should wait patiently while these battles are fought in the courts. As a minister, King responded to the criticisms on religious grounds. As an activist challenging an entrenched social system, he argued on legal, political, and historical grounds. As an African American, he spoke of the country’s oppression of Black people, including himself. As an orator, he used many persuasive techniques to reach the hearts and minds of his audience. Altogether, King’s letter was a powerful defense of the motivations, tactics, and goals of the Birmingham campaign and the Civil Rights Movement more generally.”

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“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 … Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

On the matter of patiently waiting for justice: “King called it a “tragic misconception of time” to assume that its mere passage “will inevitably cure all ills”. Progress takes time as well as the “tireless efforts” of dedicated people of good will.”

“A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.”The letter, written in response to “A Call for Unity” during the 1963 Birmingham campaign, was widely published, and became an important text for the civil rights movement in the United States. The letter has been described as “one of the most important historical documents penned by a modern political prisoner”, and is considered a classic document of civil disobedience.

60 years later, King’s ‘manifesto’ is as momentous, as powerful, and as necessary as it was during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

You may read the full text at: