Celebrate ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’


Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke powerful words. Words that continue to inspire thousands of people around the world as they work toward equality.  King’s speeches have become so famous, in fact, that we often neglect his equally impassioned written work.

While confined in a Birmingham, Ala., jail in 1963 for violating a law prohibiting demonstrations, King received an open letter from white clergy criticizing his strategy and leadership in the Birmingham struggle for civil rights.

On April 16, 1963, King wrote “Letter From Birmingham Jail” in defense of his civil rights actions in Birmingham.

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states,” he wrote. “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Today, on the 50th anniversary of the writing of “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” people all around the world will host readings of King’s letter. Some will be in schools. Others will be in public parks or houses of worship. Still others will be at coffee shops or at bookstores. In Montgomery, Ala., the Civil Rights Memorial Center’s Director Lecia Brooks will read the letter aloud. You can hear the full 32-minute recording here.

This worldwide celebration of King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was conceived of as Jim Baggett, head archivist at the Birmingham Public Library, planned for the local anniversary event one year.

“Our first thought was to have a public reading of the letter at the library,” Baggett said. “Then we wanted to expand and have readings around the city.” Eventually the event grew to include more than 225 events on all seven continents.

The words that comprise “Letter From Birmingham Jail” may not be as well-known as “I have a dream,” but they evoke an equally powerful reaction from both children and adults. Will you share them with your students today?

Williamson is associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.


A letter as Powerful As the

Submitted by babou ido on 4 June 2013 - 9:43am.

A letter as Powerful As the Declaration Of Independence.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Jefferson have in common a more egalitarian America.Martin Luther King Jr goes one step further by including blacks in the american way of life,total liberty,and the rightful pursuit of happiness.
This letter and the Declaration of Independence can be use for model of persuasive writing.

I wish this article included

Submitted by Abbie on 17 April 2013 - 12:46pm.

I wish this article included a link to the written text and not just an audio reading of the text. If a link to the text is included, and I simply missed it, I apologize, but I have looked twice and not found the link, so perhaps it should be easier to locate. Thanks, Abbie

Thanks to your suggestion, we

Submitted by Teaching Tolerance on 17 April 2013 - 2:12pm.

Thanks to your suggestion, we have now included a link to the text (see third paragraph). Thank you.

This powerful plea was

Submitted by Joy Catania on 16 April 2013 - 11:12am.

This powerful plea was included in the speeches of Dr. King I had my 8th grade students read and analyze. They came into class thinking of only the "I have a dream..." speech, actually with only the snippets shown for soundbites on the King holiday. I had them read the text and then write a response to Dr. King. Students told me that they cried thinking he had questioned continuing the movement. Now, I will use these readings for the students to both read and listen to this pivotal primary document. Common Core standards call for more analysis of primary documents, and I can think of few any better with which to acquaint our students.

I am happy that we can once

Submitted by Daoda Socrates Carlon on 17 April 2013 - 6:54am.

I am happy that we can once again bring the wisdom of King to light through your powerful program. This initiative is a powerful and infinite one. It is the beginning of establishing a peaceful world in which all men would be secured and equal. I love MLK's message and his courage. He was a gift to the world to all mankind.

Thanks for the initiative.