Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Its Historical Context and Its Broader Meaning
The Birmingham Campaign for civil rights for African-Americans started on April 3, 1963, with marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinated the non-violent campaign. A week later, Circuit Judge W. A. Jenkins ordered an injunction against all "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing". The leaders of the campaign publicly announced they would disobey this order, knowing they would be arrested for it. On Good Friday, April 12, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other marchers were arrested.
In jail, King was secretly given a copy of the newspaper, which included a "Statement from Alabama Clergymen": a signed article by eight white Alabama clergymen from different faiths, criticizing the protesters' methods. As a result, King was moved to write what became known as the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," detailing the many reasons he believed African-Americans could no longer wait for justice to be served.
Primary Documents and Secondary Sources
You've been given a quick historical context for the campaign and the letter. Time to read some primary sources!
First, read this “Statement from Alabama Clergymen” printed in the Birmingham News:
Second, read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which is a response to the “Statement from Alabama Clergymen” you just read:
Finally, read this article to get another view on some of the white clergy's activities against racism and segregation in Birmingham:
THE BIG PICTURE and more background information!
It's not MANDATORY that you read and watch the following resources; however, they WILL give you a better understanding of the situation.
- Now, read this article, which gives the articles and letter a broader context: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_letter_from_birmingham_jail_1963/
- Quick Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.: http://www.brainpop.com/socialstudies/famoushistoricalfigures/martinlutherkingjr/
- View this photo essay of protests and police retaliation of protests in the South: http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2010/03/charles_moore.html
- Above photo taken from: http://ordoesit.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/birmingham63.jpg
Now that you have a general understanding of the letter and what prompted Dr. King to write it, address the following in the form of a 3 paragraph essay:
If in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King admits that breaking laws in order to change them is "a legitimate concern," how does he still justify civil disobedience? List two reasons for his defense of civil disobedience, and explain how King thought a law could be disobeyed without leading to anarchy.
Look up the definitions for:
· civil disobedience
Then write your answer!
First paragraph: Summarize the “Statement from the Alabama Clergymen” and the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail." THINK: What was the request of the clergymen and how did Dr. King respond?
Second Paragraph: Explain what civil disobedience is and how does Dr. King justify civil disobedience? Explain two reasons for his defense of civil disobedience.
Third paragraph: How does King's appeal to "eternal and natural law" help him examine human laws?
Fourth paragraph (OPTIONAL EXTRA CREDIT): Explain a modern example of civil disobedience and its outcome.
Bibliography: If you use any other source besides the ones given, then be sure to list those web sites, books, or articles after the essay.
Please be sure to let me know if you have any questions by posting them in Edmodo. Remember: Absolutely NO plagiarizing!!!
Below photo taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Birmingham_campaign_dogs.jpg