By: CJ Riggs
One of the most taught pieces of literature comes from a letter written in a Birmingham jail cell. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sought a way to rally the supporters of the Civil Rights Movement, he used scraps of paper to write “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
“The document was well-written and published internationally and its very significant and helped the cause,” said Stacy Morgan, an American studies professor at the University of Alabama.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. held a demonstration to support the Civil Rights Movement. Many local officials were outraged by these acts of protest. They arrested him and other activists for parading without a permit. Since King was known as in charge for these demonstrations, he was put into solitary confinement. This arrest of King was his thirteenth.
While in his jail cell, he had no contacts, outside information, or anything that involved communication with other blacks. Eight clergymen described King’s demonstrations as unwise and untimely. However, they were non-violent and enticed more blacks to help the cause. As a result, King wrote a letter that was directed to these clergymen and their opinions. He advised them on the progress that had to take place to create change.
“It’s very unique to imagine for him to deliver these powerful words in such a dull space,” Morgan said.
In this letter, King wrote, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.” This letter not only touched the clergymen, but also young students, like Matthew Brown.
“Its influence has reached beyond the Civil Rights Movement to become a powerful religious and political argument for social justice and is required reading history, philosophy, religion, political science, writing and rhetoric courses in colleges the country,” Brown said.
Doug Jones, the lawyer who sought and obtained justice for the victims of the 16th Baptist Church bombing, said that the letter is an incredible piece of literature. This piece of writing explained the cause of the demonstrations, influenced a generation and responded to clergymen who criticized those non-violent acts that led to his dream of desegregation.
Trey Pivott, an English minor at the University of Alabama, said the letter was a fundamental part of the Civil Rights Movement.
“The letter was a piece of that puzzle that furthered the progress. King going to jail was a huge deal, but the letter had an effect that was documented as history,” he said.
Pivott said the letter influenced him as an educator and a student. “The letter is one of those parts of history where you can see yourself in his position,” he said. Pivott said he would have addressed the clergymen in a clever, cunning, and calm manner just as King.
“I would stick up for others and myself but peacefully explain the demonstrations and peaceful protests,” he said.
Pivott said he felt proud because he was honored that King spoke up for generations to come. It makes him feel great knowing that King paved the way.
“It’s very important and has moving statements and has the power to reach out to influence the mind,” Morgan said. He us
King reached to all generations to convey how to make progress with a common enemy. His letters, contributions, and teachings will live on throughout time.