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Reform Magazine | December 17, 2017

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Letter from a Birmingham Jail

martin_luther_kingFifty years ago this month, Martin Luther King led a peaceful demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama. He was jailed, and criticised by white clergy. He wrote his classic response in the margins of a newspaper. This is an extract

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century BC left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the Gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognisant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.…

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetising security of stained glass windows…

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This is an extract from the April 2013 edition of Reform.

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