“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. Review

The “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was written by Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 16, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. is famous all around the world as an outstanding civil rights activist and legal advocate. The letter was written in the city jail of Birmingham where Martin Luther King, Jr. was put on the reason of his participation in the Birmingham campaign, a protest against racial segregation. This letter is an inimitable piece of human rights defender’s thought featuring a large scope of appeasing ideas’ riches along with the abundance of powerful evidences to prove the relevance of making serious arrangements in order to resist oppression in human society.

In this letter King comes up with a response to Alabama clergymen who established their position towards open street protests against segregation in their “A Call for Unity” statement. In this statement the sad facts of racial discrimination and social injustices were acknowledged; however, there was a serious issue addressed concerning the right of black people to defend their freedoms in actions of protest. The clergymen argued that segregation problem should be handled through courts, and it should by no means become the basis for open street protests.

As a response King discussed a row of evidences supporting the right of people to defend their freedoms openly and logically proved the validity of such way of thinking and acting. Basically, King addressed such important themes as the problem of injustice, making non-violent social changes, and the need for a vociferous address of serious social issues including segregation and discrimination.

First of all, in this letter King argues that the problem of injustice should be the concern of every citizen as either directly or implicitly this problem adverts everybody. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (King 1963).

Secondly, King explains how to succeed in making non-violent social changes: every non-violent civil rights defending campaign should include four basic stages, which are the data collection in order to determine what injustices have actually occurred; negotiation; self refining; and action in itself (King 1963). King argues that negotiation should become a primary way of solving social problems and segregation, in particular: “the purpose of the direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation”(King 1963). King explains that in order to precipitate violence it is important to undertake any possible measures: “we must come to see, as federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence” (King 1963).

Thirdly, King explains why the segregation problem along with any other case of oppression demands active deeds including protests, demonstrations and extremism: the history of oppression phenomenon shows that oppressors will never give freedom to the oppressed ones unless they fight for it (King 1963). With regards to this, it becomes absolutely evident that serious social issues need vociferous address; otherwise, there can hardly be a hope for success. King gives an explanation that without making hard-working, well-planned and elaborated arrangements any problem can be solved: progress “comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation” (King 1963).

Fourthly, King comments on the purpose of order and law, and explains that there exist such cases when law along with order is helpless. He makes it clear that though law in general serves for the benefit and promotes order, it may happen that a particular regulation becomes dangerous for the well-being of humanity and its future progress. In addition, not every law can be described as just and humane. King makes a distinction between just and unjust laws, and says about his determination to obey only just laws. He claims himself to become the first person who will support the idea of obeying only just laws. Furthermore, King establishes a position similar to the one of Saint Augustine whose belief is that unjust regulations are not to be called laws at all.

Finally, King encourages the readers of his letter to understand that there is heroism in non-violent arrangements in order to solve the problem of discrimination and segregation: “carrying our whole nation back to great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence” (King 1963).

Concluding on everything related above, it should be stated that the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the greatest pieces of civil rights defender’s thought ever written. This letter is featuring a large scope of conciliatory ideas along with numerous powerful evidences to prove the relevance of making serious arrangements in order to oppose oppression and discrimination in human society.


King, Jr. (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail. African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania.