Mercy College of Health Sciences
Letter from Birmingham Jail In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr responded to eight Alabama clergymen who had written a letter of their own regarding a demonstration for civil rights that King (1963, 2012) was arrested for taking part in. The letter from the clergymen stated, “We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely” (p.812). The clergymen also wrote about how the police and the media should be given props for their handling of the demonstrations in such a calm way (p.812). The letter stated that the Negro community should not endorse or participate in any demonstration, but should take it up with the court system instead of in public (p.812). King (1963, 2012) had written a letter to the eight clergymen to address his thoughts on the demonstration because he felt that they were being sincere in their efforts of being peaceful about how civil rights should be dealt with. King stated, “But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms” (p. 813). He informed them that he was there because Alabama was part of an organization he was involved in and made a promise to participate in a nonviolent plan if it was needed and that he was there because he fulfilled that promise (p. 813). King (1963, 2012) had also written that he was there because of the wrong doing that was there. He wanted to convey his thoughts on how the injustice going on in Alabama was important because it affects all people regardless of whether it is firsthand or not. He spoke of how the clergymen failed to see the mistreatment of Negros that led to the demonstration to begin with by having stated, “You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being” (p.813).
King (1963, 2012) wrote about the process that was taken before finally conceding to go forward with the demonstration. He spoke of the steps that they needed to go through before deciding to go onto further action. He wanted them to also see that sometimes tension needs to rise in order for there to be change by having written, “I have earnestly worked and preached against nonviolent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth” (p.814). King (1963, 2012) addressed the clergymen’s point of the demonstration being untimely by having stated, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the blackness of corroding despair” (p.814). He included his thoughts regarding the clergymen’s statement that the activity of the demonstration was extreme. King (1963, 2012) stated at first how he didn’t appreciate being called an extremist but he had changed his mind after having thought about it and realized that he was ok with it after all. King stated, “But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love-“Love you enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you” (p.820). King compared his actions as being done in love and for justice. In the last parts of his letter King (1963, 2012) commented on the clergymen’s statement of commending the police for acting in a nonviolent way in public (p.823). He wrote, “I wish you would have commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation” (p.823).