NOTE TO STUDENTS: Pay particular attention to the question of “unjust laws” found on pp. 4-6,
the question of being an “extremist” found on pp. 7-8, and questions of non-violent protest and
oppression found throughout.
Courtesy The King Center, Atlanta, Ga.
"LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL"
April 16, 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling
present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and
ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little
time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no
time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your
criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be
patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view
which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as President of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization 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 our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate
here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such
were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our
promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited 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 carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of
their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of
Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of
freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly in
Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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. Never again can we afford to live
with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can
never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say,