Letter from Birmingham Jail Summary

Letter from Birmingham Jail was composed by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963 during his time in Birmingham, Alabama prison. The reason for his imprisonment was an organization of a peaceful protest that condemned racial segregation which was widely practiced in those times. The main message of his letter was to battle segregation and prejudice and it was written in response to eight white clergymen statement.

Socrates, Kant, and Aquinas had the most influence on King in terms of philosophy and he used these influences in his letter. The major goal of the famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ was not just to rationalize but to protect the right and ability to utilize civil disobedience in order to make the efforts of Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America more efficient.

The Birmingham protest was held in the same period as the Easter shopping season and it was scheduled this way in order to boycott commercial establishments. The opinions about the protests were very different both among white and black people. It is interesting that part of the black population wasn’t enthusiastic about this protest and a local black-oriented newspaper even accused Kind of acting out of selfishness because they have seen this protest as King’s attempt to gain more publicity. Another argument against this protest is that it could devalue the slow progress that was made during the last years in the area of civil rights for black people. From the point of view of King, both the protest and his imprisonment should inspire the movement and influence the federal government to listen to the demands of the Civil Rights Movement.

In his letter, he states that he is in Birmingham because of social injustice. With his letter, he wants to make it clear that he is educated and capable to speak on the issues of racial discrimination with authority. He describes with powerful imagery, what black people are going through, day after day facing the beatings from lynch mobs and law enforcement officers.

He makes it very clear that the need to protest exists, it is strong and protests are necessary for the sake of Civil Rights Movement’s progress. He gives examples of laws that are totally unfair but legal asserting to the immediate need to change the situation. He recollects Adolf Hitler, saying the people shouldn’t forget that what he has made was considered ‘legal’ in Germany. He also expresses his fears in regards to the state of the present day church, being afraid that it may ‘lose its spirit and become a social club without any significant meaning’.

Following Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of passive resistance, Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ gives us the motivation to choose love over hatred. Later in 1963, King’s organization arranged a march of black schoolchildren, which received a violent response from the officials. Civil rights bill which became a landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964 became the result of this march. This achievement gave Martin Luther King an iconic status of one of the most acclaimed political and moral leaders in the United States of America.

Prof. Angela


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