Letter from Birmingham Jail (excerpt)

In this section, we'll look at Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail. King was arrested while protesting discriminatory laws against African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama. He wrote a lengthy letter explaining to his critics why he went to Alabama. This is an excerpt from the letter.

Moreover, I am cognizant 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.


Though there may be a few difficult words, King's idea is stated fairly thoroughly. He is responding to people who said that he should not travel to protest in a city that is not his own. He explains that all communities are connected and bad things happening in Birmingham should concern people everywhere.


You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.


In the opening of this paragraph, he calls out his critics for critisizing his protesting, but not critisizing the conditions that he was protesting. He accuses them of only looking at effects, and not the cause of the problems in Birmingham. He ends by saying that the people in charge of the city have left African Americans no choice but to protest.








Letter from Birmingham Jail copyright 1963 Martin Luther King Jr.