Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’ Turns 52-Years-Old

Fifty-two years ago yesterday, Martin Luther King wrote his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

In history, April 16 is a day King shares with the Apollo 16 voyage and George Washington’s inauguration, according to the Great Falls Tribune, but his letter has made a huge mark on American history. The letter was inspired by an article written by clergymen who urged blacks to refrain from civil rights demonstrations. Not in agreement with the article titled “White Clergymen Urge Local Negroes to Withdraw from Demonstrations,” King saw fit to address the ignorance in writing. Since then, the “Letter From Birmingham Jail” has become prized American literature, producing famous quotes that Americans still use today.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Recently, people have looked at the piece of writing as a “jewel,” the stand out in American literature that covers the topic of conflict. Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institution at Stanford University, recently made a statement on the level of influence King’s letter had on the country and the world.

“King initially intended the Birmingham letter as a response to the eight clergymen, but it became the most cogent and influential defense of nonviolent resistance ever written.”

Many other scholars have decided that MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was much more than influential; they have called it “brilliant.” As Martin Luther King sat in a jail cell without anything but a pen and scraps of paper left by attorneys, he reportedly recollected old conversations, almost to the word. Carson accounted the level of brilliance in MLK’s letter.

“Without access to his library, he tapped his memory for convincing rebuttal arguments drawn from biblical and philosophical sources. Initially, without paper on which to write, he scribbled in the margins of the newspaper in which the criticism had appeared. Under these difficult circumstances, King drafted the most crucial public statement of his career, benefiting from the fact that he had been preparing for many years to write such a statement.”

Another scholar, Jonathan Reider of Barnard College and Columbia University, explained that Martin’s memory in writing such a piece was incredible.

“Every five or six sentences of the letter are fragments of things that King had been preaching and orating for years. He composed like a painter, like a sculptor. His ability to draw fragments together into these always-new compositions and permutations was part of his artistic brilliance. Forget about whatever intellectual and spiritual brilliance went into it. To me, what is extraordinary is that he does it without notes. It’s all deep in his soul and his spirit.”

Throughout the “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King reportedly used a “universal” voice to give a “heartfelt” statement on the conditions in America. Even though his letter gives a descriptive account of the inequality, his closing statement was hopeful.

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

The state of Alabama has remembered Martin Luther King’s letter by creating an award for “justice and natural law.” The Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail Award is being given for the first time to Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for his fight against gay marriage. The creators of the award believe that Moore’s belief and actions are compatible with those of Martin Luther King.