Audie Award Finalist, Original Work, 2013
April 16th, the year is 1963. Birmingham, Alabama, has had a spring of nonviolent protests known as the Birmingham Campaign, seeking to draw attention to the segregation against blacks by the city government and downtown retailers. The organizers longed to create a nonviolent tension so severe that the powers that be would be forced to address the rampant racism head on. Recently arrested was Martin Luther King, Jr....
It is there in that jail cell that he writes this letter; on the margins of a newspaper he pens this defense of nonviolence against segregation. His accusers, though many, in this case were not the white racist leaders or retailers he protested against, but eight black men who saw him as "other" and as too extreme. To them and to the world he defended the notion that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".
One only need to take out references to segregation to realize that too many things remain the same. With the single exception to segregation, and especially when it comes to law enforcement and the justice system, this letter is as relevant today as it was in 1963. That is not ok. We can and must do better.
In Letter from Birmingham Jail, MLK lays out the problem of inequality in a beautiful, powerful, and extremely clear open letter. He reminds the reader that injustice anywhere in a threat to injustice everywhere. In very direct language, he describes how poorly black citizens are treated in Birmingham courts and is not at all ambiguous in stating that the Negro had no other option but to revolt. It is amazing to hear, in his own words, how he collaborated with others to see if they might be able to construct a non-violent revolt that would cause enough "tension" and "crisis" to force society to change what it would not otherwise change. He questioned, with those who helped him construct a movement, if they could "take it." Could they take being jailed and still not react in a violent way? Could they achieve equality by enduring even worse treatment than they have already suffered? Would it make a real change? It is hard to imagine anyone reading this pre-civil rights letter and not being extremely moved.
MLK clearly defines just and unjust laws. Just laws are those laws that the minorities are forced to follow only when the majority follow them as well. This includes *application of the law*. If laws are disproportionately enforced on minorities, according to MLK, they are unjust. MLK makes no secret of his disdain for the white moderate who refuses to engage in extremist direct action. After all, according to MLK, any worthwhile change realized throughout history was the result of extremists like Jesus, Paul, Martin Luther, etc. He is proud to be considered an extremist and uses his extremism to engage in direct but non-violent action to affect social change.
Estate planning lawyer and mom to two boys. My older son liked audiobooks as an infant, and I've listened to a lot since then.
It is hard to rate this since Letter is an important document in civil rights history. My 6th grader had to read it for school and so we decided to listen to this audio. I was glad we did. The audio performance was quite good and it was, as a result, a much more compelling experience than just reading it.
Today is December 5, 2016. We here in America are seeing a resurgence of racism and bigotry as it was. Letter from Birmingham jail reminds me that we as a people survived then as we will now. Right now no one know what to expect of our new administration, but if we learn from before may not repeat the sins of the past. Thank you for your letter of education and encouragement. Thank God there was a Martin Luther King Jr.
I have heard so much about Dr. King. Read the "I have a dream" speech. but, I was so moved to hear his words from jail, read aloud. Each person should be so blessed as to listened to this reading. souls would be uplifted, and life's purpose revealed.
This letter by Dr. King is masterful, and should be required reading for high school students so they may understand better this period in our history.
Wow what an incredibly powerful letter/book, and unfortunately, with all that is going on in society today, a very timely message that all need to stand up to injustice. I see myself listening to this over and over again.
As one who grew up on stories and tapes of Dr. King's speeches and sermons, on his oratory, I was absolutely blown away by the combination of his pointed yet elegant rhetoric and his use of moral references drawn across time . We often hear only of Gandhi, not of St. Augustine, Socrates or Martin Buber. While I had heard of this letter before listening to it, I was unaware that it was written in response to criticism from Birmingham clergy.
The letter provides a clear insight into the human context of this trip to Birmingham, the struggles of those who lived there, and the strategy and commitment that was required to defeat the then-legal psychological, economic and physical violence of that time.
It is also a good reminder of an almost forgotten piece of American history. Many American History courses focus on the highlights. What those courses miss when they gloss over the context is that America has earned its greatness not just through hard work but also through times of difficult reflection and challenge like these - and there is still more work to do.
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