Letter From a Birmingham Jail

“Letter From Birmingham Jail”

April 16, 1963


While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came acrossyour recent statement calling my present activities "unwise anduntimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. IfI sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries wouldhave little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course ofthe day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel thatyou are men of genuine goodwill and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth,I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient andreasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have beeninfluenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." Ihave the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, anorganization operating in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta,Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South,and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with ouraffiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to beon call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemednecessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to ourpromise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I wasinvited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carriedtheir "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns: and just as the Apostle Paul left his village ofTarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of of theGreco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom far beyondmy own hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communitiesand states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about whathappens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Weare caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment ofdestiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again canwe afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator"idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered anoutsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. Butyour statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for theconditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of youwould want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis thatdeals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It isunfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is evenmore unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro communitywith no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collectionof the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We havegone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying thefact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably themost thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record ofbrutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment inthe courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes andchurches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are thehard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaderssought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refusedto engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders ofBirmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certainpromises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores'humiliating racial signs.On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and theleaders of theAlabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreedto a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, werealized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, brieflyremoved, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, andthe shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative exceptto prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as ameans of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the nationalcommunity. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake aprocess of self-purification. We began a series ofworkshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you ableto accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure theordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct-action program for theEaster season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shoppingperiod of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would bethe by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time tobring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoralty election wascoming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until afterelection day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Police Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, hadpiled up enough votes to be in the run-off, we decided again to postpone actionuntil the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used tocloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, andto this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in thiscommunity need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed nolonger.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation abetter path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, thisis the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to createsuch a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantlyrefused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatizethe issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tensionas part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But Imust confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I haveearnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive,nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create atension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of mythsand half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objectiveappraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kindof tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudiceand racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situationso crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. Itherefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has ourbeloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologuerather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action thatI and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked:"Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The onlyanswer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administrationmust be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We aresadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bringthe millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle personthan Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of thestatus quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see thefutility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see thiswithout pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to youthat we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legaland nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privilegedgroups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see themoral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, asReinhold Niebuhr has reminded us,groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is nevervoluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "welltimed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the diseaseof segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It ringsin the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" hasalmost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of ourdistinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justicedenied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional andGod-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africaaremoving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiffcreep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunchcounter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts ofsegregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynchyour mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim;when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your blackbrothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty millionNegro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of anaffluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speechstammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can'tgo to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television,and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed tocolored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form inher little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality bydeveloping an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have toconcoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why dowhite people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-countrydrive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortablecorners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you arehumiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and"colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," yourmiddle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last namebecomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given therespected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted bynight by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance,never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears andouter resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of"nobodiness"–then you will understand why we find it difficult towait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are nolonger willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you canunderstand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to breaklaws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urgepeople to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawingsegregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem ratherparadoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How canyou advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies inthe fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be thefirst to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moralresponsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility todisobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjustlaw is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does onedetermine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code thatsquares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that isout of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: Anunjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades humanpersonality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregationdistorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a falsesense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an"I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating personsto the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically,economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich has said that sin isseparation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragicseparation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that Ican urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morallyright; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they aremorally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws.An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minoritygroup to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference madelegal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels aminority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness madelegal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it isinflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote,had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislatureof Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democraticallyelected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to preventNegroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which,even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negrois registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considereddemocratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit.Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit fora parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintainsegregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peacefulassembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to pointout. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabidsegregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law mustdo so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submitthat an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust. andwho willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse theconscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing thehighest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. Itwas evidenced sublimely in the refusal ofShadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws ofNebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was atstake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing toface hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather thansubmit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academicfreedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. Inour own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civildisobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germanywas "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did inHungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comforta Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany atthe time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I livedin a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith aresuppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligiouslaws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewishbrothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have beengravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached theregrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stridetoward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councileror the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate,who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers anegative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is thepresence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goalyou seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; whopaternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom;who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro towait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding frompeople of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding frompeople of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outrightrejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law andorder exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail inthis purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow ofsocial progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that thepresent tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from anobnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjustplight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect thedignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolentdirect action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surfacethe hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where itcan be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as itis covered up but must be opened with allits ugliness to the natural medicinesof air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposurecreates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinionbefore it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even thoughpeaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this alogical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because hispossession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this likecondemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and hisphilosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in whichthey made him drink hemlock? Isn't this likecondemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasingdevotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must cometo see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong tourge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rightsbecause the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed andpunish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the mythconcerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received aletter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know thatthe colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possiblethat you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almosttwo thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take timeto come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception oftime, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the veryflow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself isneutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more Ifeel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than havethe people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merelyfor the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appallingsilence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels ofinevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to beco-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally ofthe forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledgethat the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real thepromise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creativepsalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from thequicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I wasrather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts asthose of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in themiddle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force ofcomplacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years ofoppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of"somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part ofa few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economicsecurity and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have becomeinsensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitternessand hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It isexpressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up acrossthe nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement.Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racialdiscrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith inAmerica, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concludedthat the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we needemulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatredand despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way oflove and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influenceof the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of ourstruggle.

If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of theSouth would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convincedthat if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and"outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action,and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will,out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalistideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racialnightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning forfreedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to theAmerican Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom,and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously orunconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his blackbrothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America andthe Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgencytoward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urgethat has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why publicdemonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments andlatent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him makeprayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides–and try to understand whyhe must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways,they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact ofhistory. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of yourdiscontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthydiscontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent directaction. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at beingcategorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter Igradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus anextremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do goodto them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, andpersecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Letjustice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowingstream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bearin my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist:"Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jailto the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." AndAbraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and halffree." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to beself-evident, that all men are created equal ..." So the question is notwhether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will webe extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservationof injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene onCalvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all threewere crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremistsfor immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ,was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above hisenvironment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need ofcreative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps Iwas too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should haverealized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groansand passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the visionto see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determinedaction. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the Southhave grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves toit. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some–suchas Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBrideDabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–havewritten about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marchedwith us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy,roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who viewthem as "dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their moderatebrothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensedthe need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease ofsegregation.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been sogreatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, thereare some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of youhas taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, foryour Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worshipservice on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this statefor integrating Spring Hill College severalyears ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiteratethat I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one ofthose negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. Isay this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured inits bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who willremain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a fewyears ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that thewhite ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongestallies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand thefreedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have beenmore cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizingsecurity of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with thehope that the white religious leadership of this community would see thejustice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channelthrough which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hopedthat each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leadersadmonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it isthe law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow thisdecree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is yourbrother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, Ihave watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth piousirrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggleto rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministerssay: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no realconcern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to acompletely otherworldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinctionbetween body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi andall the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumnmornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their loftyspires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of hermassive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myselfasking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where weretheir voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words ofinterposition and nullification? Where were they whenGovernor Wallace gavea clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support whenbruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons ofcomplacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointmentI have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears havebeen tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deeplove. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the ratherunique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson ofpreachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we haveblemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear ofbeing nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the timewhen the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for whatthey believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer thatrecorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat thattransformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town,the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict theChristians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outsideagitators." But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that theywere "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Smallin number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be"astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example theybrought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is aweak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefenderof the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, thepower structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent–andoften even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. Iftoday's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church,it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and bedismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentiethcentury. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church hasturned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organizedreligion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and theworld? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the churchwithin the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of theworld. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks oforganized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformityand joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left theirsecure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gonedown the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they havegone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lostthe support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in thefaith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness hasbeen the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel inthese troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the darkmountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of thisdecisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, Ihave no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of ourstruggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. Wewill reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, becausethe goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, ourdestiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed atPlymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic wordsof the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here.For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country withoutwages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters whilesuffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation–and yet out of a bottomlessvitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible crueltiesof slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. Wewill win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternalwill of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in yourstatement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force forkeeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that youwould have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinkingtheir teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quicklycommend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatmentof Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse oldNegro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick oldNegro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on twooccasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together.I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of disciplinein handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselvesrather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preservethe evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistentlypreached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as theends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral meansto attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, orperhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr.Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia,but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral endof racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "Thelast temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrongreason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators ofBirmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and theiramazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South willrecognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense ofpurpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with theagonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. There will bethe old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-oldwoman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with herpeople decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded withungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "Myfeets is tired, but my soul is at rest." There will be the young highschool and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host oftheir elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters andwillingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know thatwhen these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they werein reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the mostsacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nationback to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the foundingfathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration ofIndependence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it ismuch too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would havebeen much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what elsecan one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write longletters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truthand indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I havesaid anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patiencethat allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God toforgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope thatcircumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as anintegrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and aChristian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudicewill soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted fromour fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiantstars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all theirscintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Explanatory Text (The annotations added here werenot annotated by King Institute staff and the Institute does not guaranteetheir accuracy. For more information, make sure to check the correspondinglinks in our Encyclopedia.)


"This response to a published statement by eight fellowclergymen from Alabama (Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick,Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Holan B. Harmon, theReverend George M. Murray, the Reverend Edward V. Ramage and the Reverend EarlStallings) was composed under somewhat constricting circumstances. Begun on themargins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail,the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendlyNegro trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted toleave me. Although the text remains in substance unaltered, I have indulged inthe author's prerogative of polishing it for publication." (Click here forthe clergymen's statement to King)

Birmingham was the largest city in Alabama with apopulation of approximately 225,000. During the 1950s and 1960s, Birmingham wasone of the most segregated cities in the South with strict city ordinances thatmade it unlawful for different races to mix and mingle in almost all socialsettings.

Outsiders Coming In

Because the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was anational organization that worked to support local, grassroots campaigns forcivil rights, they wee often accused of being outside agitators. When Kingworked with local groups such as the ACHMR, he often became the focus of mediaattention, resulting in local segregationists viewing him and SCLC as outsiderswho were disrupting their community.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was establishedin 1957 to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South.Under the leadership of King, the organization utilized the power andindependence of black churches as the strength of its activities. SCLC differedfrom organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) inthat it operated as an umbrella organization of affiliates. Rather than seekingindividual membership, it coordinated the activities of local organizationslike the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and the Nashville ChristianLeadership Council. SCLC trained local communities in the philosophy ofChristian nonviolence, and through its affiliation with churches and itsadvocacy of nonviolence, sought to put the struggle for civil rights in moralterms. Headquartered in Atlanta, SCLC is now a nationwide organization withchapters and affiliates located throughout the United States. It continues itscommitment to nonviolent action to achieve social, economic, and politicaljustice and is currently focused on issues such as racial profiling, policebrutality, hate crimes, and discrimination. For our online encyclopedia entry, click here.

The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) was founded in Birmingham, Alabama, on 5 June1956, after Attorney General John Patterson of Alabama outlawed the NationalAssociation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the state.Immediately after the disbandment of the NAACP, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth calleda meeting of local ministers and community leaders at Sardis Baptist Church andthe ACMHR was founded. Shuttlesworth was named president of the ACMHR byacclamation. In its Declaration of Principles, ACMHR announced its determinationto press forward persistently for Freedom and Democracy, and the removal fromour society any forms of Second Class Citizenship. With SCLC backing, in 1963ACMHR conducted a sustained campaign of marches and nonviolent action toprotest segregation in Birmingham. ACMHR and SCLC sought to desegregate publicfacilities and attain equal employment opportunities for Birmingham’s blackcitizens by targeting the city’s department stores. For our online encyclopediaentry, click here.

St.Paul the Apostle (born A.D. 10, died A.D. 67)

Early in his life he wasa enemy of the Christian church and worked to eradicate Christianity. On theroad to Damascus, Paul had a mystical experience and the Gospel of Jesus Christwas revealed to him. After his conversion, he spent his life as a missionary,traveling, writing, and preaching the Gospel. His conversion from enemy ofChristianity to Apostle suggests the importance of absolution of sin throughfaith and grace in Christianity.


On his second and thirdmissionary journeys, Paul traveled in Macedonia to spread the gospel.Apparently, he expelled a demon from a girl who was clairvoyant. For this hewas jailed, but he was freed by an earthquake. He was later jailed, beaten, andtaken to Rome, where he was imprisoned and died.


Self purification is thecleansing of anger, selfishness and violent attitudes from the heart and soulin preparation for a nonviolent struggle. This is a fundamental aspect ofMartin Luther King Jr.\'s concept of active resistance/civil disobedience. Thepractice is deeply spiritual and philosophical and it it is not simplyideological. This is an important distinction as it differentiates this type ofaction from other forms of ideological or revolutionary behavior. From the Kingcenter in Atlanta, here are the fundamental tenets of Dr. King’s philosophy ofnonviolence described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. The sixprinciples include: (1.) Nonviolence is not passive, but requires courage; (2.)Nonviolence seeks reconciliation, not defeat of an adversary; (3.) Nonviolentaction is directed at eliminating evil, not destroying an evil-doer; (4.) Awillingness to accept suffering for the cause, if necessary, but never toinflict it; (5.) A rejection of hatred, animosity or violence of the spirit, aswell as refusal to commit physical violence; and (6.) Faith that justice willprevail.

Unsolved Bombings

Between 1948 and 1957,there were 48 unsolved racial bombings in Birmingham alone. During the 1960sthere were over 40 unsolved bombings. This resulted in Birmingham often beingreferred to as Bombingham.

ReverendFred Shuttlesworth

One of the foundingmembers of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and theSouthern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Fred Shuttlesworth brought amilitant voice to the struggle for black equality. He drew King and the SCLC toBirmingham in 1963 for a historic confrontation with the forces of segregation.The scale of protest and police brutality of the Birmingham Campaign created anew level of visibility for the civil rights movement and contributed to the passageof the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Born in Mt. Meigs, Alabama, Shuttlesworth waslicensed and ordained as a preacher in 1948. He earned an A.B. (1951) fromSelma University and a B.S. (1953) from Alabama State College. Shuttlesworthserved as minister at First Baptist Church in Selma until 1952, and thefollowing year he was called to Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham. After theU.S. Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation in Montgomery wasunconstitutional in November 1956, Shuttlesworth and the ACMHR made plans tochallenge segregation on Birmingham\’s buses. The night before their campaignwas to begin, a bomb exploded under Shuttlesworth\’s parsonage at BethelBaptist. The house was destroyed but Shuttlesworth escaped unharmed. In 1963,the SCLC joined forces with the ACMHR to protest segregation in Birmingham.SCLC leaders met secretly in January of that year to draw up initial plans forthe Birmingham Campaign, known as “Project C” – C for confrontation.Shuttlesworth issued the “Birmingham Manifesto,” which explained the blackcommunity\’s decision to act: “We act today in full concert with ourHebraic-Christian tradition, the laws of morality and the Constitution of ournation,” Shuttlesworth proclaimed. “We appeal to the citizenry of Birmingham, Negroand white, to join us in this witness for decency, morality, self-respect andhuman dignity.

Alabama Christian Movement For Human Rights

The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) wasfounded in Birmingham, Alabama, on 5 June 1956, after the Attorney General JohnPatterson of Alabama outlawed the National Association for the Advancement ofColored People (NAACP) in the state. Immediately after the disbandment of theNAACP, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth called a meeting of local ministers andcommunity leaders at Sardis Baptist Church and the ACMHR was founded.Shuttlesworth was named president of the ACMHR by acclamation. In its Declarationof Principles, the ACMHR announced its determination to press forwardpersistently for Freedom and Democracy, and the removal from our society anyforms of Second Class Citizenship. With the backing of SCLC, in April and Mayof 1963, the ACMHR conducted a sustained campaign of marches and nonviolentaction to protest segregation in Birmingham. ACMHR and SCLC sought todesegregate public facilities and attain equal employment opportunities forBirmingham\’s black citizens by targeting the city\’s department stores. Theirdemonstrations were met with arrests, assault by fire hoses and police dogs,and imprisonment.

Mayoralty Election

The Birmingham mayoralty election was to be held on March 5th,1963. SCLC and ACMHR decided to postpone Project C, also known as ProjectConfrontation, for two weeks in order to prevent Bull Connor from using thepresence of protesters to emotionally charge the election for his politicaladvantage. The three candidates, Bull Connor, Albert Boutwell and Tom King wereall segregationists. No candidate won a clear majority and the runoff betweenConnor and Boutwell further delayed the protests. Boutwell won the election onApril 2nd, but he and other city officials refused to leave office. On May 23rdhe was forced to vacate the office by the Alabama Supreme Court. King andothers began Project C on April 3rd.

Connor, Theophilus Eugene"Bull" (1897-1973)

Bull Connor was an ardent segregationist who served for twenty-twoyears as commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, Alabama. Using hisadministrative authority over the police and fire departments, Conner worked toensure that Birmingham remained, as Martin Luther King, Jr. described it, themost segregated city in America. In 1963, the violent response of Connor andhis police force to demonstrations in Birmingham propelled the civil rightsmovement into the national spotlight.

Connor was born on 11 July 1897 in Selma, Alabama. After the deathof his mother when he was eight, Connor traveled around the country with hisfather, who moved from job to job as a railroad telegrapher. Connor nevergraduated from high school, but he learned telegraphy from his father and usedthis skill to gain employment at radio stations and eventually become a radiobroadcaster. His political career began in 1934 when he used his popularity asa Birmingham sportscaster to win a seat in the Alabama House ofRepresentatives. After serving a term in the House, he was elected to theBirmingham City Commission and soon became known for his uncompromisingopposition to integration. Upon his reelection as commissioner of public safetyin 1957, he promised to uphold segregation in Birmingham to the utmost of myability and by all lawful means. It was on his watch that the city earned thenickname Bombingham, with seventeen bombings of black homes and churchesoccurring between 1957 and 1963.

Direct Action

Direct action is a form of political activism which seeks to remedysocial, political or economic ills. It is often immediate and confrontational.Direct action can include such activities as strikes, workplace occupations,sit-ins, revolutionary/guerrilla warfare, demonstrations, etc. Direct actionsare sometimes a form of civil disobedience and can include illegal activities.


The sit-in campaigns of 1960 and the ensuing creation of theStudent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) demonstrated the potentialstrength of grass-roots militancy and enabled a new generation of young peopleto gain confidence in their own leadership. Although Martin Luther King, Jr.expressed pride in the new activism for being “initiated, led and sustained bystudents”; he often found himself the target of criticisms from SNCC activistswho believed he was too cautious. The campaigns were initiated on 1 February1960 when four black students from North Carolina A&T College sat down atWoolworth's lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. The students-- Joseph McNeil, Izell Blair, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond -- purchasedseveral items in the store before sitting at the counter reserved for white customers.When a waitress asked them to leave, they politely refused; and to theirsurprise, they were not arrested. The four students remained seated for almostan hour until the store closed. The following morning about two dozen studentsarrived at Woolworth’s and sat at the lunch counter. While no confrontationsoccurred, the second sit-in attracted the local media. By day three of thecampaign, the students had formed the Student Executive Committee for Justiceto coordinate protests which would culminate in a march of several thousandstudents. The Greensboro protesters eventually agreed to the mayor’s request tohalt protest activities while city officials sought “a just and honorablesolution,” but black students in other communities launched lunch counterprotests of their own. By the end of the month, sit-ins had taken place at morethan thirty locations in seven states. By fall of 1960 there were signs thatthe southern civil rights movement had been profoundly transformed by thefiercely independent student protest movement. Those who had participated inthe sit-in campaign were determined to continue the direct-action tactics thatwere seizing the initiative from older, more cautious organizations such asKing’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Socrates (470 BC–399 BC)

Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who is widely creditedfor laying the foundation for Western philosophy. Most of what we know ofSocrates comes from the writings of Plato. Socrates is often referred to agadfly because he upset social norms by posing difficult philosophicalquestions that caused people to examine their lives and beliefs. This created atension in the mind that had the effect of liberating individuals from theinfluence of socially accepted half-truths and myths. For these activities,Socrates was tried in an Athenian court on charges of corrupting the youth.Although he had the opportunity to escape and run from his fate, Socratesrefused and he was sentenced to death.

Albert Boutwell

Albert Burton Boutwell (1904 - 1978). In the 1963 Birminghammayoral election, the three candidates, Bull Connor, Albert Boutwell and TomKing were all segregationists. No candidate won a clear majority in the firstelection but Boutwell defeated Connor in a runoff on April 2nd. However, Connorand other city officials refused to leave office. On May 23rd Connor was forcedto vacate the office by the Alabama Supreme Court. Boutwell took office andserved for one term.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 –1971). Niebuhr was a veryimportant and influential Protestant theologian known for his attempt to relatethe Christian faith to the reality of the modern political world. He wrote manybooks that examined the role of the church in society and he served as theeditor of the magazine Christianity and Crisis. According to Niebuhr,“individuals are morally sensible in their ability to consider the interests ofothers and to act on their behalf. Individuals can be unselfish. However, in asociety or a group of individuals, it is difficult to handle the interest ofthe group by means of the human rational faculty because groups are only thecollection of individuals\’ selfish impulses, not of their unselfishconsideration for others. This collective egoism of individuals becomes morepowerful. In every human group there is less reason to guide and to checkimpulse, less capacity for self-transcendence, less ability to comprehend theneeds of others therefore more unrestrained egoism than the individuals, whocompose the group, reveal in their personal relationships. Therefore, Allsocial co-operation on a larger scale than the most intimate social grouprequires a measure of coercion.

The Nations Of Asia And Africa

After WWII, many nations in African and Asia were engaged inde-colonization movements to gain independence. India, Vietnam, Algeria, theCongo and Sudan are just a few examples of countries that gained independencefrom foreign occupiers. These movements became key battlegrounds during theCold War, where both the united States and The Soviet Union vied for politicalallies.

Supreme Court's Decision Of 1954

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Brownis a landmark ruling of the United States Supreme Court which overturned Plessyv. Ferguson(1896). Brown made clear that the establishment of separate publicschools for black and white students was inherently unequal. The Warren Courthanded down a (9-0) decision that made racial segregation a violation of theEqual Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This legal victory,spearheaded by the NAACP, paved the way for the civil rights movements of the1950s and 60s.

St. Augustine

Aurelius Augustine; St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was aChristian theologian, and a bishop in North Africa. Although born a Catholic,Augustine left the faith to become a Manichaean. He studied rhetoric and taughtin various cities throughout the Roman Empire. Later in life, Augustineconverted to Christianity and became a priest. In 396 he was made the bishop ofHippo. His writings have had a tremendous impact on the development ofChristianity.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was perhaps the greatest medievalphilosopher and he is considered by many Roman Catholics as their mostimportant theologian. Aquinas tried to show the harmony between faith andreason, and between Christianity and philosophy. Aquinas thought that throughnatural reason we discern what is good and bad. This reason is an impression ofthe divine light, or eternal law, upon us. A law is a prescription that we actor not act and laws must be directed to the common good. Laws that aren\'t forthe common good are unjust. An unjust law isn\'t a law at all because it it outof harmony with eternal law.'

Martin Buber

Martin Buber (1878-1965) was Jewish philosopher, translator, andeducator, and his work was very influential on 20th century theology. I-Thou orI-You describes a relationship that stresses the mutual, holistic existence oftwo beings. These beings interact with one another in their authenticexistence, without any objectification of one another. The I-it relationshipstands in opposition to I-You. I-It describes a relationship between asubject-I and an object-It. This causes the I to experience others beings asthings, and this in turn allows for dehumanization.


I-Thou or I-You describes a relationship that stresses the mutual,holistic existence of two beings. These beings interact with one another intheir authentic existence, without any objectification of one another. The I-itrelationship stands in opposition to I-You. I-It describes a relationshipbetween a subject-I and an object-It. This causes the I to experience othersbeings as things, and this in turn allows for dehumanization.

Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich (1886 –1965) was a German-American theologian andChristian existentialist. According to Tillich, in his book, The Shaking of theFoundations,“To be in the state of sin is to be in the state of separation. Andseparation is threefold: there is separation among individual lives, separationof a man from himself, and separation of all men from the Ground of Being. Thisthree-fold separation constitutes the state of everything that exists; it is auniversal fact; it is the fate of every life. And it is our human fate in avery special sense. For we as men know that we are separated. We not onlysuffer with all other creatures because of the self-destructive consequences ofour separation, but also know why we suffer. For sin and grace are bound toeach other. We do not even have a knowledge of sin unless we have alreadyexperienced the unity of life, which is grace. And conversely, we could notgrasp the meaning of grace without having experienced the separation of life,which is sin. In grace something is overcome; grace occurs in spite ofsomething; grace occurs in spite of separation and estrangement. Grace is thereunion of life with life, the reconciliation of the self with itself.”-Tillich\'s theology was the subject of King\'s dissertation.

First Amendment

US Constitution
Bill of Rights
Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, orprohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, orof the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petitionthe government for a redress of grievances.

Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is the active refusal to obey certain laws,demands and commands of a government or of an occupying power without resortingto physical violence. It is one of the primary tactics of nonviolentresistance. Henry David Thoreau developed the modern theory behind thispractice in his 1849 essay Resistance to Civil Government. Thoreau\'s essay hasbeen influential on many practitioners of civil disobedience, including Gandhiand Martin Luther King.

Shadrach and others

The book of Daniel(3:1-30). King Nebuchandnezzar constructed agolden statue and requested that all bow down and worship it or suffer death bybeing thrown into a furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bowdown and worship because of the Old Testament prohibition against worshippingidols. For this they were thrown into the furnace. They emerged from the furnacecompletley unharmed. Amazed that these men were willing to die rather thanserve or worship any god other than their own God, King Nebuchandnezzarproclaimed that the God of these men is the one true God, for no other God cansave in this way.

Hungarian Freedom Fighters

In 1945, near the end of WWII, the Soviet Union liberated Hungaryfrom the Nazis. Soon, Hungary was dominated by the sphere of Soviet influence.On October 23rd, 1956, Hungarian students began demonstrating against Sovietdomination. There was widespread revolt and many joined the freedom fighters,yet the Soviets crushed the uprising on November 10th. However, many see theuprising as the first crack in the iron curtain.

White Citizens Council

The White Citizens Council was founded in 1954. The WCC issometimes referred to as a civilized version of the KKK, or a white collarKlan. They met openly and worked to thwart desegregation movements. They werewhite supremacists and were involved in many racist activities, however, theydid not openly advocate violence or terrorism.

Ku Klux Klanner

Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is the name of several past and presentorganizations in the United States that have advocated white supremacy,anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, anti-Communism and nativism. Theseorganizations have often used terrorism, violence, and acts of intimidation,such as cross burning, to oppress African Americans and other social or ethnicgroups.

Drink Hemlock

After being found guilty by an Athenian jury, Socrates wassentenced to death. He drank a cup of poison hemlock.

ElijahMuhammad's Muslim Movement

Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) was the leader of the Nation of Islam(Black Muslims) in the mid-20th century. He was a major advocate ofindependent, black-operated businesses, institutions, and religion. ElijahMuhammad was born Elijah (or Robert) Poole on October 7, 1897. He was an earlydisciple of W.D. Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad establishedChicago as the center of the movement and built a Temple, schools, created anewspaper, and founded black owned businesses. The movement is verydisciplined. Members have strict rules to follow regarding eating, drinking,and behavior. Members are forbidden from eating pork, smoking and drinking. Theuse of drugs, profanity, and dancing are also not permitted. All members are tobe well dressed and groomed. Muhammad taught that blacks constituted theoriginal human beings, but that a mad black scientist named Yakub had created awhite beast through genetic manipulation and that whites had been given atemporary dispensation to govern the world. That period, however, was due toend soon; now the time was at hand for blacks to resume their former dominantrole. It was understood that violent war would be likely before the transitioncould be completed. In the meantime, Muhammad advocated an independent nationfor African Americans.


Zeitgeist is originally a German expression that means the spiritof the age. It is literally translated as Zeit=time and Geist=spirit. Itdescribes the intellectual and cultural climate of a particular age or era.

Freedom Rides

During the spring of 1961, student activists launched the FreedomRides to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals. Travelingon buses from Washington, D.C., to Montgomery, Alabama, the riders met violentopposition in the Deep South, garnering extensive media attention andeventually forcing federal intervention from the Kennedy administration. 
Although eventually successful in securing an Interstate Commerce Commissionban on segregation in all facilities under their jurisdiction. On the 4th ofMay 1961, the Freedom Riders left Washington, D.C., in two buses and headed toVirginia. While they met resistance and arrests in Virginia, it was not untilthe riders arrived in Rockhill, South Carolina, that they encountered violence.There, Lewis and another rider were beaten, and another rider was arrested forusing a white restroom. The ride continued to Anniston, Alabama, where on the14th of May, riders were met by a violent mob of over 100 people. Before thearrival, Anniston local authorities had given permission to the Ku Klux Klan tostrike against the Freedom Riders without fear of arrest. After a series ofstandoffs, one of the buses was firebombed, and its fleeing passengers wereforced into the angry white mob. The violence continued at the Birminghamterminal where Eugene -Bull- Connor\’s police force offered no protection.Although the violence garnered national media attention, the series of attacksprompted James Farmer of CORE to end the ride. The riders flew to New Orleans,the original destination, bringing to an end the first Freedom Ride of the1960s.


Amos was a prophet who gave his message to the Israelites in 750 BCEor 749 BCE. The reference is to Amos 5:24. Amos warns the people of Israel thatthe Lord is displeased with their behavior. People are overly concerned withearthly possessions, bodily desires and there is a shallow adherence to theirreligious values. Amos tells the people that God will soon judge them for theirsins.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the leader of the great religiousrevolt of the sixteenth century in German. His theology challenged theauthority of the papacy by emphasizing the Bible as the sole source ofreligious authority. According to Luther, salvation was attainable only byfaith in Jesus as the messiah, and this faith was not mediated by the church.These ideas helped to inspire the Protestant Reformation and changed the courseof Western civilization. Martin Luther began his assault on the papacy when henailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. Thatdocument contained an attack on papal abuses and the sale of indulgences bychurch officials.

John Bunyan

John Bunyan (1628-1688), was a Christian writer and preacher, andauthor of The Pilgrim\'s Progress, the most famous published Christianallegory. Bunyan was imprisoned in 1660 for preaching without a license. He wasconfined for 12 years because he refused to desist from preaching. While inconfinement, he wrote The Pilgrim\'s Progress which tells the story ofChristian, who makes his way from the City of Destruction, to the CelestialCity of Zion, the former symbolizing earth and the latter heaven.

Ralph and others

The writers that King refers to are Southern whites who havewritten extensively on racism, desegregation, and civil rights. They were allsupporters of the civil rights movement.

Reverend Stallings

Stallings was one of the eight clergymen to whom the Letter From aBirmingham Jail was addressed. He was the pastor of Birmingham's First BaptistChurch. Stallings was praised by King for desegregating his church in early1963. Because of his moderate stance on civil rights and desegregation,Stalling was often the target of criticism from both conservativesegegregationists and liberal integrationists.

Spring Hills College

Spring Hill College is the oldest Jesuit college in the South andthe third oldest Jesuit school in the United States. In 1954, Spring HillCollege became the first college in Alabama to integrate its student body. Theydid so prior to the Brown decision.

Bus protests in Montogomery, Alabama

Sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks on 1 December 1955, theMontgomery bus boycott was an eleven-month mass protest that ended with theU.S. Supreme Court ruling that public bus segregation is unconstitutional. TheMontgomery Improvement Association coordinated the boycott, and its president,Martin Luther King, Jr., became a prominent civil rights leader asinternational attention focused on Montgomery. The bus boycott demonstrated thepotential for nonviolent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregationand served as an example for other southern campaigns that followed. The MIAissued a formal list of demands: courteous treatment by the bus operator;first-come, first-serve seating for all, with blacks seating from the rear andwhites from the front; and black bus operators on predominately black routes.Montgomery\'s black residents stayed off of the buses through 1956, as cityofficials and white citizens sought to defeat the boycott. The homes of bothKing and Ralph Abernathy were bombed, and the membership of the local WhiteCitizen\'s Council doubled. City officials obtained injunctions against theboycott in February 1956 and arrested 156 protesters under a 1921 lawprohibiting the hindrance of a bus. Despite this resistance, the boycott continued.Under increasing pressure to address the conflict in Montgomery, the federaldistrict court ruled bus segregation unconstitutional on 4 June 1956 (Browderv. Gayle). The Supreme Court upheld the lower court\'s ruling, and on 21December 1956, the boycott officially ended. King\'s role in the bus boycottgarnered international attention, and the MIA\'s tactics of combining massnonviolent protest with a Christian tone became the model for challengingsegregation in the South, a strategy highlighted by King in Stride TowardFreedom, his 1958 memoir of the boycott.

Governor Barnett

Governor Barnett Ross Robert Barnett (1898 –1987) was the Democraticgovernor of the U.S. state of Mississippi from 1960 to 1964. He was a staunchsegregationist who opposed James Meredith\'s attempt to integrate theUniversity of Mississippi. Barnett\'s open defiance of federal law and hisunapologetically racist views often caused him to clash with federalauthorities.


Nullification refers to the idea that sovereign States formed theUnion and that these States reserve final authority over their affairs,especially regarding the authority of the Federal Government's power over Stateaffairs. Essentially, they felt they could nullify or make void a Federal lawthat they disagreed with. The issue of State's rights was a central concern ofthe Civil War in the 1860s and the civil rights movement in the 1960s. ManySouthern Governors refused to follow Federal law and claimed State's rights astheir defense.

Governor Wallace

After pledging “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregationforever!” in his 1963 inaugural address, Alabama Governor George Wallace gainednational notoriety by symbolically standing at the entrance of the Universityof Alabama to denounce the enrollment of two African American students. Hisstature as an ardent segregationist was further heightened when he mobilizedthe Alabama National Guard to block school desegregation in Birmingham in 1963and when he condoned the use of violence during the Selma to Montgomery Marchin 1965. Martin Luther King, Jr. described Wallace as one the most dangerousracists in America. George Corley Wallace was born on 25 August 1919 in Clio,Alabama. The son of a farmer, he worked his way through the University ofAlabama Law School and graduated in 1942. After a brief stint in the UnitedStates Air Force, Wallace returned to Alabama to work as the state\’s assistantattorney general. He was elected to the state legislature in 1947 and served asa district judge from 1953 to 1959. In his early political career, hemaintained a moderate stance on integration; but after losing his firstgubernatorial campaign to a candidate who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan,Wallace became an outspoken defender of segregation. He soon established areputation as the fighting judge for his defiance of the U.S. Commission onCivil Rights; and four years later, he won the governorship on a segregationistplatform. Between 1963 and 1987, Wallace served four terms as governor.

Infanticide and gladiatorial protests

The first recorded gladiatorial combat in Rome occurred when threepairs of gladiators fought to the death during the funeral of Junius Brutus in264 BCE. These types of contests were common until Christianity became the mostpopular religion in Rome in 4th century AD.Infanticide was often practiced inthe Roman Empire. A father would be presented with a child and he would decidewhether the child should be raised, or left out in the elements to die. Visiblydeformed children were almost always killed. Christians rejected this practice,and as their influence grew, the practice died out.


Ecclesia or Ekklesia in Christian theology denotes both aparticular body of faithful people, and the whole body of the faithful. In thisreference he means the inner church as the true body of religion.

Albany, Georgia

Formed on 17 November 1961 by Albany, Georgia\’s ColoredMinisterial Alliance, the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC), and other civil rights organizations, the Albany Movement conducted abroad campaign that challenged all forms of segregation and discrimination.Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)joined the coalition in December 1961, attracting national publicity to Albany.Although the Albany Movement was successful in mobilizing massive protestsduring December 1961 and the following summer, it secured few concrete gainsdue to the jailing of hundreds of protesters. It was the first campaign in theSouth to involve large numbers of black adults of varied class backgrounds inprotests. Protests continued in Albany through July, when the Albany Movementinvited SCLC and SNCC to share leadership in the campaign. Following his secondarrest, King agreed on 10 August 1962 to leave Albany and halt thedemonstrations, effectively ending the Albany Movement. While close toninety-five percent of the black population boycotted buses and shops, theultimate goals of the Movement were not met. King blamed much of the failure onthe campaign\’s wide scope. The experiences in Albany, however, helped informthe strategy for the Birmingham Campaign that followed less than a year later.

Birmingham Police Force

The Birmingham police, led by Eugene Bull Connor, were notoriouslyharsh. They were often witnessed perpetrating civil right abuses or allowingothers like the Klan to perpetrate crimes. During the civil rights struggles of1963, police Commissioner Connor ordered the use of fire hoses and dogs todrive back the youthful demonstrators. Across the country, television stationsfanned images of firefighters attacking citizens with powerful hoses and policecarting children away in paddy wagons. This police riot in Birmingham drewnational attention to the harsh realities of racial segregation in the South,and sparked more than a hundred black protests in cities and communitiesthroughout the nation.

Chief Pritchett

Laurie Pritchett, police chief of Albany, Georgia, from 1959 to1966, was primarily known for his role in containing the efforts of the AlbanyMovement, a group of civil rights organizations that in 1961 conducted a broadcampaign against the city’s institutionalized segregation. Pritchett’snonviolent approach to demonstrations, including arrests of Martin Luther King,Jr., were seen as effective strategies in bringing the campaign to an endbefore the Movement could secure any concrete gains. In late 1961, two yearsafter Pritchett was appointed chief of police, the Albany Movement broughtcivil rights activists to Albany to contest racial segregation in bus and trainstations, libraries, parks, and hospitals, as well as discrimination in juryrepresentation and in emplo yment. In anticipation of the arrests of a largenumber of protestors, Pritchett arranged to have access to jails in nearbycities. He also ordered his officers to enforce the law without using violenceand to make arrests under laws protecting the public order, rather than underthe more legally unstable segregation laws. Pritchett was also careful to avoidthe negative nationwide attention that police brutality could bring to his cityand police department. Following an incident on July 24 in which officialsassaulted peaceful demonstrators, including a pregnant woman, he quickly tookcontrol of the situation by declaring that he was an advocate of nonviolenceand ordered his officers to refrain from using clubs or guns unless attacked.Pritchett, who had a close relationship with white newsmen covering theprotests, was featured in several important magazines and newspapers for hisbelief in nonviolent law enforcement. The lack of violence in Albany resultedin very little media coverage of the actual protests. Although he and King wereon opposite sides of the Albany struggle, Pritchett later maintained that Kingwas a close personal friend. He died in High Point in 2000 at the age of 73.

T.S. Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot/ T.S. Eliot,(1888-1965), was a poet,dramatist and literary critic. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in1948. This quote is taken from the Eliot play, Murder in The Cathedral, whichdeals with the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket. In this scene, Becket istempted by a figure who offers him martyrdom, which he rejects and he acceptshis death as inevitable. The passage reads: Now is my way clear, now is themeaning plain:Temptation shall not come in this kind again.The last temptationis the greatest treason:To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

James Meredith

In January 1961, the night following John F. Kennedy'spresidential inauguration, James Meredith decided to submit an application tothe University of Mississippi (also known as Ole Miss), which was closed toAfrican-American students. His application was rejected twice, but with thehelp of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP),Meredith legally challenged the university’s segregation policy. After enduringextended court battles, the defiance of Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, andviolent campus riots, Meredith was finally admitted on 1 October 1962. Meredithgraduated from Ole Miss in August 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in politicalscience.
In 1966 Meredith began a solitary march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson,Mississippi, to encourage African-American voter registration. When a sniperwounded him on the second day of the march, the Southern Christian LeadershipConference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student NonviolentCoordinating Committee rallied behind his cause. King, Stokely Carmichael, andFloyd McKissick were joined by hundreds of other marchers as they completed themarch. By the late 1960s Meredith had moved to New York and received a lawdegree from Columbia University. Over the next several years, Meredith becamemore politically involved, making several unsuccessful bids for public office,including a run for the Republican Senate nomination in Mississippi.