Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail
[ N. B. All typographical errors are from the original source and therefore have not been corrected. A PDF version can be found here. ]
AU !"#$% N" &' his response to a published statement by eight fello( clergymen from Alabama )Bishop *. *. +. *arpenter, Bishop +oseph A. Duric-, #abbi !ilton .. /rafman, Bishop Paul !ardin, Bishop !olan B. !armon, the #everend /eorge 0. 0urray. the #everend &d(ard 1. #amage and the #everend &arl %tallings2 (as composed under some(hat constricting circumstance. Begun on the margins of the ne(spaper in (hich the statement appeared (hile 3 (as in 4ail, the letter (as continued on scraps of (riting paper supplied by a friendly Negro trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys (ere eventually permitted to leave me. Although the te5t remains in substance unaltered, 3 have indulged in the author$s prerogative of polishing it for publication.

April 67, 6879 0: D&A# F&.."; *.&#/:0&N' ;hile confined here in the Birmingham city 4ail, 3 came across your recent statement calling my present activities <un(ise and untimely.< %eldom do 3 pause to ans(er criticism of my (or- and ideas. 3f 3 sought to ans(er all the criticisms that cross my des-, my secretaries (ould have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and 3 (ould have no time for constructive (or-. But since 3 feel that you are men of genuine good (ill and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, 3 (ant to try to ans(er your statements in (hat 3 hope (ill be patient and reasonable terms. 3 thin- 3 should indicate (hy 3 am here 3n Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the vie( (hich argues against <outsiders coming in.< 3 have the honor of serving as president of the %outhern *hristian .eadership *onference, an organi=ation operating in every southern state, (ith head>uarters in Atlanta, /eorgia. ;e have some eighty?five affiliated organi=ations across the %outh, and one of them is the Alabama *hristian 0ovement for !uman #ights. Fre>uently (e share staff, educational and financial resources (ith our affiliates. %everal months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham as-ed us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct?action program if such (ere deemed necessary. ;e readily consented, and (hen the hour came (e lived up to our promise. %o 3, along (ith several members of my staff, am here because 3 (as invited here 3 am here because 3 have organi=ational ties here. But more basically, 3 am in Birmingham because in4ustice is here. +ust as the prophets of the eighth century B.*. left their villages and carried their <thus saith the .ord< far beyond the boundaries of their home to(ns, and 4ust as the Apostle Paul left his village of arsus and carried the gospel of +esus *hrist to the far corners of the /reco?#oman (orld, so am 3. compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my o(n home to(n. .i-e Paul, 3 must constantly respond to the 0acedonian call for aid. 0oreover, 3 am cogni=ant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. 3 cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about (hat happens in Birmingham. 3n4ustice any(here is a threat to 4ustice every(here. ;e are caught in an inescapable net(or- of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. ;hatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can (e afford to live (ith the narro(, provincial <outside agitator< idea. Anyone (ho lives inside the United %tates can never be considered an outsider any(here (ithin its bounds. :ou deplore the demonstrations ta-ing place 3n Birmingham. But your statement, 3 am sorry to say, fails to e5press a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. 3

Negro leaders sought to negotiate (ith the city fathers. here can be no gainsaying the fact that racial in4ustice engulfs this community. 3ts ugly record of brutality is (idely -no(n. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United %tates. had piled up enough votes to be in the run?oat (e decided again to postpone action until the day after the run?off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. (e decided to underta-e a process of self?purification. As in so many past e5periences. marches and so forthA 3sn$t negotiation a better pathA< :ou are >uite right in calling. "n the basis of these promises. (e felt that this (ould be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change. 3t see-s so to dramati=e the issue that it can no longer be ignored. and to this end (e endured postponement after postponement. As the (ee-s and months (ent by.e decided to schedule our direct?action program for the &aster season. (hereby (e (ould present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. . Nonviolent direct action see-s to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community (hich has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. 3t is unfortunate that demonstrations are ta-ing place in Birmingham. (e reali=ed that (e (ere the victims of a bro-en promise. 3n the course of the negotiations. and (e repeatedly as-ed ourselves ' <Are you able to accept blo(s (ithout retaliatingA< <Are you able to endure the ordeal of 4ailA< . to remove the stores humiliating racial signs.hy direct actionA .e had no alternative e5cept to prepare for direct action. and (e speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. but it is even more unfortunate that the city$s (hite po(er structure left the Negro community (ith no alternative. . But the latter consistently refused to engage in good?faith negotiation. . . the #everend Fred %huttles(orth and the leaders of the Alabama *hristian 0ovement for !uman #ights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. 3n any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps' collection of the facts to determine (hether in4ustices e5ist@ negotiation@ self?purification@ and direct action.hen (e discovered that the *ommissioner of Public %afety. "n the basis of these conditions. brutal facts of the case.e began a series of (or-shops on nonviolence. reali=ing that e5cept for *hristmas. our hopes bad been blasted. . this is the very purpose of direct action.hy sit?ins.i-e many others. briefly removed. for negotiation. (e (aited to see 0r. hen it occurred to us that Birmingham$s mayoralty election (as coming up in 0arch.(ith leaders of Birmingham$s economic community. and the shado( of deep disappointment settled upon us. !aving aided in this community need.e have gone through an these steps in Birmingham. hese are the hard. hen. here have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. 3ndeed. Negroes have e5perienced grossly un4ust treatment in the courts. 0y citing the creation of tension as part of . &ugene <Bull< *onnor. returned@ the others remained. 0indful of the difficulties involved. Bno(ing that a strong economic (ith (ith?dra(al program (ould be the by?product of direct action. certain promises (ere made by the merchants ??? for e5ample. came the opportunity to tal. A fe( signs.2 am sure that none of you (ould (ant to rest content (ith the superficial -ind of social analysis that deals merely (ith effects and does not grapple (ith underlying causes. last %eptember. (e felt that our direct?action program could be delayed no longer. :ou may (ell as-' <. this is the main shopping period of the year. *onnor defeated.

"ne of the basic points in your statement is that the action that 3 and my associates have ta-en in Birmingham is untimely.amentably.e are sadly mista-en if (e feel that the election of Albert Bout(ell as mayor (ill bring the millennium to Birmingham.3 the (or. oo long has our beloved %outhland been bogged do(n in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue. <. nonviolent tension (hich is necessary for gro(th. groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. Bout(ell (ill be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. he purpose of our direct?action program is to create a situation so crisis?pac-ed that it (ill inevitably open the door to negotiation. For years no( 3 have heard the (ord <. 3ndividuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their un4ust posture@ but. he nations of Asia and Africa are moving (ith 4etli-e speed to(ard gaining political independence.depths of pre4udice and racism to the ma4estic heights of understanding and brotherhood. -ic. Bout(ell is a much more gentle person than 0r.ait< has almost al(ays meant $Never. 3 have hope that 0r. But he (ill not see this (ithout pressure from devotees of civil rights. .< 3 have earnestly opposed violent tension. .to e5plain to your si5?year?old daughter (hy she can$t go to the public amusement par. 3 have yet to engage in a direct?action campaign that (as <(ell timed< in the vie( of those (ho have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.e must come to see. Perhaps it is easy for those (ho have never felt the stinging dar.aitC< 3t rings in the ear of every Negro (ith piercing familiarity. and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness to(ard (hite .of the nonviolent?resister may sound rather shoc-ing. that <4ustice too long delayed is 4ustice denied. but there is a type of constructive. and see tears (elling up in her eyes (hen she is told that Funto(n is closed to colored children. his <. %ome have as-ed' <. it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.e have (aited for more than 9DE years for our constitutional and /od?given rights. they are both segregationists. dedicated to maintenance of the status >uo. as #einhold Niebuhr has reminded us.< .of segregation to say.ait.and even -ill your blacbrothers and sisters@ (hen you see the vast ma4ority of your t(enty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society@ (hen you suddenly find your tongue t(isted and your speech stammering as you see. Fran-ly. *onnor. +ust as %ocrates felt that it (as necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half?truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and ob4ective appraisal.e -no( through painful e5perience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor@ it must be demanded by the oppressed. 3 therefore concur (ith you in your call for negotiation. But 3 must confess that 3 am not afraid of the (ord <tension. and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental s-y. before it (ill act.< But (hen you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at (ill and dro(n your sisters and brothers at (him@ (hen you have seen hate?filled policemen curse.hy didn$t you give the ne( city administration time to actA< he only ans(er that 3 can give to this >uery is that the ne( Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one.that has 4ust been advertised on television. . but (e stiff creep at horse?and?buggy pace to(ard gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. (ith one of our distinguished 4urists.< . 3 must say to you that (e have not made a single gain civil rights (ithout determined legal and nonviolent pressure.hile 0r. (e must (e see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the -ind of tension in society that (ill help men rise from the dar. . 0y friends.

at first glance it may seem rather parado5ical for us consciously to brea.ho can say that the legislature of Alabama (hich set up that state$s segregation la(s (as democratically electedA hroughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming . had no part in enacting or devising the la(. 3t gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.la(s. his a(ful estrangement. a 4ust la( is a code that a ma4ority compels a minority to follo( and that it is (illing to follo( itself.< your middle name becomes <boy< )ho(ever old you are2 and your last name becomes <+ohn. Any la( that degrades human personality is un4ust. :ou e5press a great deal of an5iety over our (illingness to brea. to use the terminology of the +e(ish philosopher 0artin Buber. All segregation statutes are un4ust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. substitutes an <3?it< relationship for an <3?thou< relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Any la( that uplifts human personality is 4ust. . for they are morally (rong. 3 (ould be the Brat to advocate obeying 4ust la(s. %egregation. (hy do (hite people treat colored people so meanA<@ (hen you ta-e a cross?county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel (ill accept you@ (hen you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading <(hite< and <colored<@ (hen your first name becomes <nigger. . one has a moral responsibility to disobey un4ust la(s. as a result of being denied the right to vote.< and your (ife and mother are never given the respected title <0rs.<@ (hen you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro. Augustine that <an un4ust la( is no la( at all< No(. for it is morally right@ and 3 can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances. here comes a time (hen the cup of endurance runs over. living constantly at tiptoe stance. 3s not segregation an e5istential e5pression $of man$s tragic separation. his is difference made legal. A la( is un4ust if it is inflicted on a minority that.et me give another e5planation. his terrible sinfulnessA hus it is that 3 can urge men to obey the 68FD decision of the %upreme *ourt. An un4ust la( is a code that a numerical or po(er ma4ority group compels a minority group to obey but does not ma-e binding on itself.la(s. never >uite -no(ing (hat to e5pect ne5t.et us consider a more concrete e5ample of 4ust and un4ust la(s. "ne has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey 4ust la(s. %ince (e so diligently urge people to obey the %upreme *ourt$s decision of 68FD outla(ing segregation in the public schools. "ne may (on as-' <!o( can you advocate brea-ing some la(s and obeying othersA< he ans(er lies in the fact that there fire t(o types of la(s' 4ust and un4ust. !ence segregation is not only politically. you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. his is sameness made legal. homas A>uinas' An un4ust la( is a human la( that is not rooted in eternal la( and natural la(. *onversely. 3 hope. sirs. Paul illich said that sin is separation. economically and sociologically unsound.4 people@ (hen you have to concoct an ans(er for a five?year?old son (ho is as-ing' <Daddy. 3 (ould agree (ith %t. An un4ust la( is a code that is out of harmony (ith the moral la(. and men are no longer (illing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. his is certainly a legitimate concern. and are plagued (ith inner fears and outer resentments@ (hen you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of <nobodiness< then you (ill understand (hy (e find it difficult to (ait. it is morally (rong and a(ful. . o put it in the terms of %t. By the same to-en. (hat is the difference bet(een the t(oA !o( does one determine (hether a la( is 4ust or un4ustA A 4ust la( is a man?made code that s>uares (ith the moral la( or the la( of /od.

< %hallo( understanding from people of good (ill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill (ill. (ho is more devoted to <order< than to 4ustice@ (ho prefers a negative peace (hich is the absence of tension to a positive peace (hich is the presence of 4ustice@ (ho constantly says' <3 agree (ith you in the goal you see-. *an any la( enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structuredA %ometimes a la( is 4ust on its face and un4ust in its application. No(. (ho (ere (illing to face hungry lions and the e5cruciating pain of chopping bloc-s rather than submit to certain un4ust la(s of the #oman &mpire. 3 (ould have aided and comforted my +e(ish brothers. had 3 lived in /ermany at the time. 3t (as evidenced sublimely in the refusal of %hadrach.e should never forget that everything Adolf !itler did in /ermany (as <legal< and everything the !ungarian freedom fighters did in !ungary (as <illegal.in his stride to(ard freedom is not the . For instance. as (ould the rabid segregationist. not a single Negro is registered.< 3t (as <illegal< to aid and comfort a +e( in !itler$s /ermany. on the ground that a higher moral la( (as at sta-e. 3 submit that an individual (ho brea-s a la( that conscience tells him is un4ust and (ho (illingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its in4ustice. 3 must confess that over the past fe( years 3 have been gravely disappointed (ith the (hite moderate. my *hristian and +e(ish brothers. 3n no sense do 3 advocate evading or defying the la(. 3 had hoped that the (hite moderate .the flo( of social progress. . the Boston ea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience. 0eshach and Abednego to obey the la(s of Nebuchadne==ar. 3n our o(n nation. there is nothing ne( about this -ind of civil disobedience. o a degree. 3 had hoped that the (hite moderate (ould understand that la( and order e5ist for the purpose of establishing 4ustice and that (hen they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that bloc. 3 (ould openly advocate disobeying that country$s antireligious la(s. 3 am sure that. 3 must ma-e t(o honest confessions to you. "f course. but the (hite moderate. there is nothing (rong in having an ordinance (hich re>uires a permit for a parade. hat (ould lead to anarchy. "ne (ho brea-s an un4ust la( must do so openly. 3 hope you are able to ace the distinction 3 am trying to point out.u-e(arm acceptance is much more be(ildering than outright re4ection. but 3 cannot agree (ith your methods of direct action<@ (ho paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man$s freedom@ (ho lives by a mythical concept of time and (ho constantly advises the Negro to (ait for a <more convenient season. &ven so. 3 have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro$s great stumbling bloc. 3f today 3 lived in a *ommunist country (here certain principles dear to the *hristian faith are suppressed. academic freedom is a reality today because %ocrates practiced civil disobedience.hite *iti=en$s *ounciler or the Bu Blu5 Blanner. 3t (as practiced superbly by the early *hristians. and (ith a (illingness to accept the penalty. But such an ordinance becomes un4ust (hen it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citi=ens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest. lovingly. and there are some counties in (hich.5 registered voters. First. is in reality e5pressing the highest respect for la(. 3 have been arrested on a charge of parading (ithout a permit. . even though Negroes constitute a ma4ority of the population.

"ne is a force of complacency. (e (ho engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. in (hich the Negro passively accepted his un4ust plight. must be condemned because they precipitate violence. but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry.e bring it out in the open. to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. %ociety must protect the robbed and punish the robber.hemloc-A 3sn$t this li-e condemning +esus because his uni>ue /od?consciousness and never?ceasing devotion to /od$s (ill precipitated the evil act of crucifi5ionA .e must come to see that. But is this a logical assertionA 3sn$t this li-e condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robberyA 3sn$t this li-e condemning %ocrates because his uns(erving commitment to truth and his philosophical in>uiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in (hich they made him drin. from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flo( of time that (ill inevitably cure all ills. Actually. 3 had also hoped that the (hite moderate (ould re4ect the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. (here it can be seen and dealt (ith. he teachings of *hrist ta-e time to come to earth.nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation. . .of human dignity. as a result of long years of oppression. 3 began thin-ing about the fact that stand in the middle of t(o opposing forces in the Negro community. the largest and best?-no(n being &li4ah 0uhammad$s 0uslim . have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. Actually.6 (ould understand that the present tension in the %outh is a necessary phase of the transition from an obno5ious negative peace. it is (rong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the >uest may precipitate violence. 3t has ta-en *hristianity almost t(o thousand years to accomplish (hat it has. 3t is e5pressed in the various blac. !uman progress never rolls in on (heels of inevitability@ it comes through the tireless efforts of men (illing to be co?(or-ers (ith /od.i-e a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened (ith an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light.of our activity in Birmingham as e5treme. No( is the time to lift our national policy from the >uic-sand of racial in4ustice to 7e solid roc. time itself is neutral@ it can be used either destructively or constructively.< %uch an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time. as the federal courts have consistently affirmed. .e (ill have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful (ords and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. :ou spea. he other force is one of bitterness and hatred. even though peaceful. 0ore and more 3 feel that the people of ill (ill have used time much more effectively than have the people of good (ill. made up in part of Negroes (ho. No( is the time to ma-e real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. At fist 3 (as rather disappointed that fello( clergymen (ould see my nonviolent efforts as those of an e5tremist. because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some (ays they profit by segregation. . .e must use time creatively. !e (rites' <An *hristians -no( that the colored people (ill receive e>ual rights eventually. 3n your statement you assert that our actions. in the -no(ledge that the time is al(ays ripe to do right. (ith all the tension its e5posure creates. in4ustice must be e5posed. are so drained of self?respect and a sense of <somebodiness< that they have ad4usted to segregation@ and in part of a fe( middle class Negroes (ho.e merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. 3 have 4ust received a letter from a (hite brother in e5as. in (hich all men (ill respect the dignity and (orth of human personality. to a substantive and positive peace. and (ithout this $hard (or-.

e must never forget that all three (ere crucified for the same crime???the crime of e5tremism.nationalist. %outh America and the *aribbean. millions of Negroes (ill.ove your enemies. see. *onsciously or unconsciously. 3f one recogni=es this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community. one should readily understand (hy public demonstrations are ta-ing place.uther an e5tremist' <!ere 3 stand@ 3 cannot do other(ise. so help me /od. he has been caught up by the Geitgeist.< . the United %tates Negro is moving (ith a sense of great urgency to(ard the promised land of racial 4ustice.e (e be e5tremists for hate or for loveA . and something (ithout has reminded him that it can be gained. 3 am grateful to /od that. and that is (hat has happened to the American Negro.< ...as not 0artin . saying that (e need emulate neither the <do? nothingism< of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the blac. 3f this philosophy had not emerged.incoln' < his nation cannot survive half slave and half free. but (hat -ind of e5tremists (e viii be. be flo(ing (ith blood. 3 am convinced.< . as 3 continued to thin. the (ay of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. he Negro has many pent?up resentments and latent frustrations. %o let him march@ let him ma-e prayer pilgrimages to the city hall@ let him go on freedom rides?and try to understand (hy he must do so. and (ith his blac. But though 3 (as initially disappointed at being categori=ed as an e5tremist. and (ho have concluded that the (hite man is an incorrigible <devil. 3 have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. this movement is made up of people (ho have lost faith in America. bless them that curse you. %o 3 have not said to my people' </et rid of your discontent. out of frustration and despair.e hold these truths to be self?evident. (ho have absolutely repudiated *hristianity.solace and security in blac-?nationalist ideologies a development that (ould inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare. . he .< #ather.as not +esus an e5tremist for love' <. And 3 am further convinced that if our (hite brothers dismiss as <rabble? rousers< and <outside agitators< those of us (ho employ nonviolent direct action. .< And +ohn Bunyan' <3 (ill stay in 4ail to the end of my days before 3 ma-e a butchery of my conscience. he yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself. do good to them that hate you. and pray for them (hich despitefully use you.ord +esus. and persecute you.7 movement. Nourished by the Negro$s frustration over the continued e5istence of racial discrimination. For there is the more e5cellent (ay of love and nonviolent protest. and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts. by no( many streets of the %outh (ould.brothers of Africa and his bro(n and yello( brothers of Asia.< 3 have tried to stand bet(een these t(o forces. "ppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. .about the matter 3 gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. and thus fell belo( their environment.as not Paul an e5tremist for the *hristian gospel' <3 bear in my body the mar-s of the . 3f his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent (ays.ill (e be e5tremist for the preservation of in4ustice or for the e5tension of 4usticeA 3n that dramatic scene on *alvary$s hill three men (ere crucified. (o (ere e5tremists for immorality. through the influence of the Negro church. And no( this approach is being termed e5tremist. they (ill seee5pression through violence@ this is not a threat but a fact of history. %omething (ithin has reminded him of his birthright of freedom. that an men are created e>ual .< %o the >uestion is not (hether (e (ill be e5tremists. and he must release them.< And homas +efferson' <.< And Abraham .as not Amos an e5tremist for 4ustice' <.et 4ustice roll do(n li-e (aters and righteousness li-e an ever?flo(ing stream.

3 am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has ta-en some significant stands on this issue. in (elcoming Negroes to your (orship service on a non segregated basis. 3 do not say this as one of those negative critics (ho can al(ays find something (rong (ith the church.illian %mith. (ith deep moral concern.hen 3 (as suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in 0ontgomery. some have been outright opponents. +ames 0cBride Dabbs. there are some notable e5ceptions. ho(ever. . %ome?such as #alph 0c/ill. the nation and the (orld are in dire need of creative e5tremists. 3 have heard many ministers . 3 have been so greatly disappointed (ith the (hite church and its leadership. suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen (ho vie( them as <dirty nigger lovers. 3 say this as a minister of the gospel. Alabama. "f course. 3 commend you. 3 commend the *atholic leaders of this state for integrating %pring !ill *ollege several years ago. (as an e5tremist for love. Perhaps the %outh. 3 have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their (orshipers to comply (ith a desegregation decision because it is the la(. roach?infested 4ails. But despite these notable e5ceptions. but they are big in >uality. that some of our (hite brothers in the %outh have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it.8 other. But again 3 have been disappointed. Ann Braden and %arah Patton Boyle???have (ritten about our struggle in elo>uent and prophetic terms. "thers have marched (ith us do(n nameless streets of the %outh. but 3 have longed to hear (hite ministers declare' <Follo( this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother. Perhaps 3 (as too optimistic@ perhaps 3 e5pected too much. 3n spite of my shattered dreams. 3nstead. hey are still too fe( in >uantity. 3 came to Birmingham (ith the hope that the (hite religious leadership of this community (ould see the 4ustice of our cause and. they have recogni=ed the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for po(erful <action< antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. 3 must honestly reiterate that 3 have been disappointed (ith the church. hey have languished in filthy. (ho loves the church@ (ho (as nurtured in its bosom@ (ho $has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and (ho (ill remain true to it as long as the cord of #io shall lengthen. 3 have (atched (hite churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. 3 felt (e (ould be supported by the (hite church felt that the (hite ministers.et me ta-e note of my other ma4or disappointment. 3 suppose 3 should have reali=ed that fe( members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race. and thereby rose above his environment. persistent and determined action. . +eans *hrist. refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era@ an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anestheti=ing security of stained?glass (indo(s.< 3n the midst of blatant in4ustices inflicted upon the Negro. 3 am than-ful.< Unli-e so many of their moderate brothers and sisters. 3 had hoped that each of you (ould understand. #everend %tallings. 3n the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic in4ustice. for your *hristian stand on this past %unday. 3 had hoped that the (hite moderate (ould see this need. a fe( years ago. priests and rabbis of the %outh (ould be among our strongest allies. (ould serve as the channel through (hich our 4ust grievances could reach the po(er structure. truth and goodness. . !arry /olden. and still fe(er have the vision to see that in4ustice must be rooted out by strong.

Perhaps 3 have once again been too optimistic. as the true e--lesia and the hope of the (orld. hings are different no(. forfeit the loyalty of millions. 3f today$s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church.9 say' < hose are social issues. "n s(eltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings 3 have loo-ed at the %outh$s beautiful churches (ith their lofty spires pointing heaven(ard. bet(een the sacred and the secular. &very day 3 meet young people (hose disappointment (ith the church has turned into outright disgust. 3 see the church as the body of *hrist. it vi lose its authenticity.hat -ind of people (orship hereA . on Biblical distinction bet(een body and soul.alleye gave a clarion call for defiance and hatredA . hey (ere too /od into5icated to be <astronomically intimidated. 3 have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious?education buildings. here can be no deep disappointment (here there is not deep love. %o often it is an archdefender of the status >uo. !o( could 3 do other(iseA l am in the rather uni>ue position of being the son. But.henever the early *hristians entered a to(n. 3 have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama. %o often the contemporary church is a (ea-. . .here (ere their voices (hen the lips of /overnor Barnett dripped (ith (ords of interposition and nullificationA . /eorgia. But the 4udgment of /od is upon the church as never before. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church. 0ississippi and all the other southern states. :es. here (as a time (hen the church (as very po(erful in the time (hen the early *hristians re4oiced at being deemed (orthy to suffer for (hat they believed. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. hey have left their secure congregations and (al-ed the streets of Albany. :es. the grandson and the great?grandson of preachers. and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club (ith no meaning for the t(entieth century.ho is their /odA . "ver and over 3 have found myself as-ing' <. these >uestions are still in my mind. ohC !o( (e have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists. the people in po(er became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the *hristians for being <disturbers of the peace< and <outside agitators<$ But the *hristians pressed on. they (ere big in commitment. %mall in number.< And 3 have (atched many churches commit themselves to a completely other (orldly religion (hich ma-es a strange. 3s organi=ed religion too ine5tricably bound to the status >uo to save our nation and the (orldA Perhaps 3 must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church.here (ere their voices of support (hen bruised and (eary Negro men and (omen decided to rise from the dar. 3 love the church.here (ere they (hen /overnor . 3n those days the church (as not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion@ it (as a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. ineffectual voice (ith an uncertain sound. the po(er structure of the average community is consoled by the church$s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are. and gladiatorial contests.< called to obey /od rather than man. But again 3 am than-ful to /od that some noble souls from the ran-s of organi=ed religion have bro-en loose from the paraly=ing chains of conformity and 4oined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. 3n deep disappointment 3 have (ept over the la5ity of the church.< By their effort and e5ample they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide.dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protestA< :es. in the conviction that they (ere <a colony of heaven. (ith (hich the gospel has no real concern. the church (ithin the church.

< 3 doubt that you (ould have so (armly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sin-ing their teeth into unarmed. "ne day the %outh (ill recogni=e its real heroes. %ome have been dismissed from their churches. 3f the ine5pressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us. (e (ere here. 3 have tried to ma-e clear that it is (rong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. :es. hey have carved a tunnel of hope through the dar. &liot has said' < he last temptation is the greatest treason' o do the right deed for the (rong reason. heir (itness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. Abused and scorned though (e may be. . the opposition (e no( face (ill surely fail. 3 have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham. But even if the church does not come to the aid of 4ustice.old Negro men and young boys@ if you (ere to observe them.10 (ith us. to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. "ver the past fe( years 3 have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means (e use must be as pure as the ends (e see-.< 3 (ish you had commended the Negro sit?inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth. %. For more than t(o centuries our forebears labored in this country (ithout (ages@ they made cotton -ing@ they built the homes of their masters (hile suffering gross in4ustice and shameful humiliation?and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. Perhaps 0r. Before the pen of +efferson etched the ma4estic (ords of the Declaration of 3ndependence across the pages of history. 3 cannot 4oin you in your praise of the Birmingham police department. (ith the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face +eering. 3 doubt that you (ould so >uic-ly commend the policemen if . hey (ill be old. 3 have no despair about the future. they have gone to 4ai (ith us. But no( 3 must affirm that it is 4ust as (rong. as (as *hief Pritchett in Albany. and (ith the agoni=ing loneliness that characteri=es the life of the pioneer. ham and all over the nation. . as they did on t(o occasions. *onnor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public.mountain of disappointment. As . hey (ill be the +ames 0erediths. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.you (ere to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city 4ail@ if you (ere to (atch them push and curse old Negro (omen and young Negro girls@ if you (ere to see them slap and -ic. because the goal of America . oppressed. Before closing 3 feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. /eorgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial in4ustice. nonviolent Negroes.e (ill reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham. 3n this sense they have conducted themselves rather <nonviolently< in pubic. even if our motives are at present misunderstood. But for (hat purposeA o preserve the evil system of segregation. our destiny is tied up (ith America$s destiny. 3 hope the church as a (hole (ill meet the challenge of this decisive hour. hey have gone do(n the high(ays of the %outh on tortuous rides for freedom.e (ill (in our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal (ill of /od are embodied in our echoing demands. (e (ere here. 3t is true that the police have e5ercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. have lost the support of their bishops and fello( ministers. and hostile mobs. refuse to give us food because (e (anted to sing our grace together. their (illingness to suffer and their ama=ing discipline in the midst of great provocation. or perhaps even more so.freedom. :ou (armly commended the Birmingham police force for -eeping <order< and <preventing violence. .

. Never before have 3 (ritten so long a letter. but (hat else can one do (hen he . 3$m afraid it is much too long to ta-e your precious time. and (ho responded (ith ungrammatical profundity to one (ho in>uired about her (eariness' <0y fleets is tired. [Source: http://www. +#. 3 hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. :ours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood. but my soul is at rest. 3 also hope that circumstances (ill soon ma-e it possible for me to meet each of you. courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and (illingly going to 4ail for conscience$ sa-e.com/nobel/peace/ !"#$a%l.alone in a narro( 4ail cell.long thoughts and pray long prayersA 3f 3 have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience. 3f 3 have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allo(s me to settle for anything less than brotherhood. symboli=ed in a seventy?t(o?year?old (oman in 0ontgomery.U !&# B3N/. 3 beg you to forgive me. 0A# 3N . 3 beg /od to forgive me. Alabama. the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders. thin. not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fello( clergyman and a *hristian brother.html& .to those great (ells of democracy (hich (ere dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the *onstitution and the Declaration of 3ndependence.< hey (ill be the young high school and college students.et us all hope that the dar. and in some not too distant tomorro( the radiant stars of love and brotherhood (ill shine over our great nation (ith all their scintillating beauty. 3 can assure you that it (ould have been much shorter if 3 had been (riting from a comfortable des-. thereby bringing our nation bac. "ne day the %outh (ill -no( that (hen these disinherited children of /od sat do(n at lunch counters. other than (rite long letters. they (ere in reality standing up for (hat is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our +udaeo?*hristian heritage.almaz.11 battered Negro (omen.clouds of racial pre4udice (ill soon pass a(ay and the deep fog of misunderstanding (ill be lifted from our fear?drenched communities. (ho rose up (ith a sense of dignity and (ith her people decided not to ride segregated buses.

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