Civil Rights and Protests

Race Riots

What was the significance of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”?

Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and jailed for leading a protest march in Birmingham, Alabama. Eight local Christian and Jewish clergymen condemned King and other blacks for what they deemed “unwise and untimely” activities and accused King of agitating citizenry by addressing the subject of direct action. They advised King to “wait” and be patient for justice to come to the city. King responded on April 16, 1963, by writing a letter from his jail cell explaining why he was in Birmingham, enumerating various injustices against black people, and explaining what nonviolent protest for social change meant. After King smuggled the long letter out of jail, the American Friends Service Committee, a group always sympathetic to blacks and their plight, published it. Various magazines and newspapers across the nation published the letter as well. Some claim that the letter—along with King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”—became one of the most significant statements of the modern and nonviolent Civil Rights Movement.


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