Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail

Letter from Birmingham Jail Essay

The Letter from Birmingham Jail is an open letter that was drafted in April 1963 by Martin Luther King Jr. This letter commonly referred to as The Negro is Your Brother was a response to the White clergymen’s pleas to approach the situation more subtly and patiently. The eight clergymen had written an article; “A Call for Unity” regarding the civil rights demonstrations in Alabama. It focused on convincing the blacks to end the demonstration in Birmingham since they believed that these actions would affect their efforts to achieve equality. In this regard, the letter written by Martin Luther King Jr aimed at addressing the “moderate politics” that was affecting the progress and objective of the civil rights demonstrations. Thus, the analysis of the Letter from Birmingham Jail is vital in advocating for political changes.

Historical Context of the Letter from Birmingham Jail

Over the years Birmingham was depicted as the ideal southern destination for the majority of travellers. Nonetheless, there was a distinct contrast between the white and black individuals in political involvement and participation. For instance, in 1963, there were over 80,000 registered voters and only 12.5% of voters who represented the black folks. According to Sails-Dunbar (2017), black residents were under-represented by political leaders. Further, the Birmingham Commissioner on Public Safety; Bill Connor also enforced segregation in the area by persecuting black citizens who challenged the status quo. Segregation was typical for the residents of Birmingham who from a young age, acknowledged that blacks were inferior and dishonest.

The lack of cohesion triggered the boycott of local stores by students attending Miles in 1962. These events motivated Martin Luther King Jr. to hold nonviolent protests in the region. In 1963, Dr King was arrested and sent to a Birmingham jail in Alabama after he went against the court’s directive and led a protest without a permit. Once, Dr King read the article written by the clergymen; he drafted a response where Reverend Wyatt Walker compiled the different notes. It was a 21-page response that focused on the issues presented in the article “A Call for Unity”. The letter was a representation of the challenges encountered in the fight for freedom and equality for the black population. The Letter from Birmingham Jail became part of American history since it is studied in schools and appears in the different collections around the globe.

Themes: The Letter from Birmingham Jail

The Letter from Birmingham Jail is viewed as a symbolic representation of the American public address. The objective of this letter was to convince a bigger audience and counter the views that the civil rights movement actions are similar to those who violate the state’s routine (Bass, 2001). Besides, the letter was beneficial to the plan advocated by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in attracting the attention of the national press. This is because the response was not sent to the eight clergymen. It was delivered to the media who shared Martin Luther King Jr’s opinions and views.

The main themes that dominated the Letter from Birmingham Jail explored the aspects of admonishment and justification. Dr King begins the letter by addressing the clergymen and stating why he was in Birmingham. According to the letter he was in Birmingham after their affiliate program in the region requested to have them engage in a nonviolent direct action program. He was in the area due to the organizational ties since he was the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (King & Vivian, 2013). Moreover, the injustice in the area influenced his decision to go to Birmingham. Thus, he used the opportunity to justify his presence, the use of direct action and non-violence, and willingness to go against the law.

On the other hand, admonishment was another central theme in the letter. Martin Luther King Jr. condemned the white churches and leaders for ignoring the people’s plea for equality. In the letter, he mentioned that he was utterly disappointed by the white moderate. Further, Dr King acknowledged that the biggest challenge to progress and freedom is the white moderate who is more focused on order than justice (King & Vivian, 2013). The letter criticizes the conventional religious leader who has been frustrating the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr since they preferred negative peace which is the absence of tension (Bass, 2001). In the letter, Martin Luther King declared the segregation laws as sinful and against God’s laws.

Additionally, he justified civil disobedience by referring to the Bibles, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego who refused to obey the unjust ways of Nebuchadnezzar. Martin Luther King Jr. also declined to consent to the unfair laws that enforced segregation and denied the citizens the right to peaceful demonstrations. As highlighted by King & Vivian (2013), he refers to the Christian beliefs and values that human beings are entitled to justice and liberty from dictatorship. Dr King argued that Christianity should be used to encourage civil disobedience to laws that seek to oppress the people and deny them their rights. Thus the church should resist from advocating for adherence to oppressive policies for the sake of obedience.


In conclusion, the majority of the white moderates believed that equality would be achieved in due time. Dr King countered this view by stating that with hard work and resilience, time becomes a deterrent to social progress and freedom. The Letter from Birmingham Jail is a source of reference and motivation for modern civil rights movements in future campaigns. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that nonviolent disruption and doing things that would inconvenience the white community would be beneficial in the attainment of desired objectives. The Letter from Birmingham Jail enforced the importance of consistency and resilience in attainment of justice.  


Bass, S. J. (2001). Blessed are the peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., eight white religious leaders, and the" Letter from Birmingham Jail". LSU Press.

King, M. L., & Vivian, C. T. (2013). Letter from Birmingham jail. Arguing about law, 254-264.

Sails-Dunbar, T. T. (2017). A Case Study Analysis of the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: Conceptualizing the Conscience of King through the Lens of Paulo Freire. Pursuit-The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee, 8(1), 14.

Published on: 5 Sep 2020

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