Letter from Birmingham Jail Brief Summary
‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ is an open letter addressed to the eight white Alabama clergymen, written by Martin Luther King Jr. on 16 April 1963, while he was confined to the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, for playing a pivotal role in the non-violent protest against the policy of racial segregation practiced in Alabama, which was backed and supported by the Birmingham city government and the local retailers. Though one the surface, this letter appears to address the objections raised by the eight white clergymen to whom it is addressed, in a larger context, in this letter, King tends to unravel the very dynamics of racial segregation in his times.
In Letter from Birmingham Jail, first and foremost, King comes heavily on the attempt on the part of the conformist white moderates to demonize the very nature and scope of nonviolent resistance practiced by King and his supporters, by trying to picture it as being inherently extremist, something fomented by outsiders and aimed at disturbing the public peace in the Birmingham City (127). King dilutes the very aspersions of his detractors by pointing to the pan-American affiliations to the ideals of justice, thereby making the non-violent protest in Birmingham as being something that is quintessentially in consonance with the universal human aspirations and values.
It goes without saying that in a very articulate and tactful way, King unravels the intentions of the conformist elements in the American South to possibly derail if not suppress the Civil Rights Movement by convincing its supporters to desist from their actions, telling them to trust the natural flow of the America socio-historical progress, which if adhered to will automatically lead to the fall of racial segregation. Without resorting to abject hatred or outright anger, King extends the readers an insight into the status-quo oriented approach of the varied social institutions in the American South, be it the courts, Church or the political setup. At the same time, King supports the spirit and scope of the Civil Rights Movement by highlighting its allegiance to the time tested ethical, political, religious and political standards enshrined in Western history and civilization. King also elaborates on the pragmatic relevance of the non-violent resistance to racial segregation, as being an appropriate vent for the long-existing black resentment and disappointment, which if suppressed could give way to destabilizing consequences in American society (136). King’s approach towards the stance of the white Church regarding the issue of racial segregation is straightforward, frank, critical and imploratory, soliciting a more proactive and practical contribution in the black quest for social and racial justice.
Letter from Birmingham Jail is actually a multifaceted document, which speaks as much about the social, religious, political and economic aspects of the racial segregation in the American South, as about the character, personality and the essential beliefs of its composer. The overall approach of the letter is reconciliatory and forward-looking.
Works Cited: King Jr., Martin Luther. Letter from Birmingham Jail. New York: Estate of Martin Luther King Jr., 1963.