Letter from Birmingham Jail by Shmoop

Letter from Birmingham Jail by Shmoop

Letter from Birmingham Jail, a la Shmoop. In your English and literature classes… …you’ve surely read your fair share of
novels, poems, stories and plays. But a letter?! What’s next… an office memo? Believe it or not, there have been some pretty
powerful and influential letters written in our nation’s history. One man who really knew how to string a series of words together was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Whether the words were coming out of his mouth
or out of his pen… …he knew how to stir emotion, and how to
move people to action. First, let’s be clear… King wasn’t in
jail because he had been caught breaking and entering, or because he wasn’t keeping up
with alimony payments. He had been marching against racial segregation. While in jail, he wrote this letter. It was in response to the “Call to Unity,”
a statement made by a number of Birmingham clergymen who felt it was wrong of King to
demonstrate and stir up trouble in the streets to get his point across. But King wasn’t about to let them… rain on his parade. Besides, the black community
wasn’t really given any more… peaceable options. In his letter, King insisted that when it
came to unjust laws… …it was the people’s moral obligation
to see that they were eradicated, by whatever non-violent methods they deemed most appropriate
or effective. So, basically… no one was going to tell
him he couldn’t protest against something he didn’t believe was right. You tell ‘em, Doc.
King wrote, “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… “Anyone who lives inside the United States
can never be considered an outsider…” His words were a bit much for some people
to swallow at first… …but they certainly had an impact. The letter was published in the New York Post… …and later in King’s book Why We Can’t
Wait. It became incredibly popular, and was passed
around, copied, and quoted for years to come. It went a long way in swaying the minds of
those struggling with the issue… …and maybe planted a seed or two of doubt
in the minds of even the most rigidly stubborn individuals.
Without a doubt, it is one of the most significant works ever to come out of a jail cell. That is, if you don’t count the letter “How
Much Longer Until Bubba and I Get a Chance to Use the Community Bathroom?” by Inmate
43872. Strangely, that letter was also published
in a book entitled Why We Can’t Wait.

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About the Author: Sam Caldwell


  1. Great, plain English explanation. Thanks! I made a video to help build background about Letter From Birmingham Jail for students. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3HdU1hrZ30&list=PLc3xfmn2u0XN8koEKuC8uNfQdhtW8cUd4

  2. Nah this is dismissive and disrespectful. I get what Shmoop was going for but they overdid it. Get rid of this crap and redo it some justice.

  3. They are actually wrong about it being published in the New York Post, an editor at the New York Post stole parts of the letter and published it without King's consent.It was actually first fully published with his consent in the 1963 issue of liberation.I'm surprised they even got that wrong

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