Letter from Birmingham Jail
November 10, 2014
• Subject: Answering several criticisms from the clergymen, Dr. King himself addressed why he was in Birmingham and why racial segregation needed to be changed now. He explicitly pointed out that civil disobedience was necessary and timely. He implicitly blamed the Christian church members for not standing up for their fellow brothers and justice; he also displayed disappointment at the leadership of the clergy.
• Occasion: The United States was still struggling with racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s after so many years of oppression. Economic communities were giving colored people a hard time, and putting on humiliating racial signs. Aiming at several issues, in 1963, Dr. king’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was invited to Birmingham to aid one of its affiliates in protesting intense segregationist policies. Though practicing nonviolent resistance, Dr. King was jailed in Birmingham for parading without a permit and willing to accept the penalty. Eight clergymen wrote a public statement in the Post-Herald criticizing the demonstrations, saying they are unwise and untimely. They also suggested that the demonstrators should take a mild approach and negotiate rather than to “incite to hatred and violence”
• Audience: Though this letter was meant to directly addressing to the eight white clergymen who publicly asked the black community to restrict their Birmingham demonstrations because they were “unwise and untimely”, Dr. King was aware that this message was going to spread to a much larger audience, therefore he also used his letter to address some universal questions of freedom and inequality. He spoke to the church as “I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.” and “I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.” More widely Martian Luther King was addressing the world and imploring...
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