Review: Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Letter from the Birmingham Jail
Letter from the Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a reputation for writing powerful, effective letters, and I am proud to say that I have successfully fought for the rights of many individuals against the bigger society who have attempted to repress them. However, this letter is many leagues above any letter that I have ever written!

It is inspiring. I wonder if there is any public record of the response from the eight clergymen to whom this open letter was addressed?

My reading of this letter, on the day after Martin Luther King Jr Day (2013), was prompted by reading Rowena’s review.

MLK makes a fantastic, reasoned case for the validity of nonviolent direct action to achieve the objective of bringing those who refuse to negotiate to the table.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action.

He also addresses the assertion, made by the aforementioned clergymen, that his acitivities in Birmingham, Alabama, were “unwise and untimely.”

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action
campaign that was “well timed” in view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.

His explanation, including examples, of the difference between just and unjust law are nothing short of superb.

MLK also uses many quotes from, and cites actions of, philosophers, biblical characters and American presidents. I particularly liked the references to Socrates. And, whether you believe in the truth of the Bible or not, you have to admire the way that he uses excerpts from that book to persuade his fellow religious leaders. There is no way that they can challenge him without endangering their integrity in their own churches and synagogues.

Finally, MLK apologises for the length of his letter, but justifies it by telling the recipients that he has long hours to while away whilst incarcerated in Birmingham Jail.

Do I recommend it? Much more than that, I urge you to go and read it now at this link! It will only take you a few minutes, and you will agree with me, when you reach the end, that your time was well spent.

View all my reviews

About Lance Greenfield

Blog: email: I published my debut novel in December 2014: Eleven Miles. My second novel went live in February 2016: Knitting Can Walk!
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3 Responses to Review: Letter from the Birmingham Jail

  1. davidprosser says:

    Powerful stuff Lance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bryndonovan says:

    YES. When I taught at university, I used this as a master example of rhetoric. I especially love what he says about time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There was no response to Dr. King’s letter from the clergymen. Not until 2011 did any religious organization offer a response. Here’s a link to an article about that, and the actual 2011 response can be downloaded from the webpage. Dr. King’s letter is a powerful document. I grew up in the American South during the civil rights era of the 50s and 60s, and Dr. King was and still remains one of my heroes.

    Liked by 1 person

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