The author of "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a famous and influential activist during the period of Civil Rights struggle in 1960's America. The "Letter" reflects many of his central philosophies, including those of nonviolence, civil disobedience, justice, and human dignity.
As explained in the "About 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'" portion of this Note, Dr. King wrote his letter in response to an open letter written and published by eight white clergymen from Birmingham. They were of various Judeo-Christian faiths.
In their letter, the clergymen criticized Dr. King and the SCLC for their activism, while commending the Birmingham police. Though Dr. King structures the "Letter" as a direct response to the clergymen, they are ultimately a means through which he addresses white moderates in general and society at large.
Eugene “Bull” Connor
Connor was the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham during the period of the protests. Known for his vicious attitudes towards blacks, he was an admitted racist and is best known today for his use of firehoses and dogs against nonviolent protesters. He ran for mayor shortly before the SCLC action began, but lost to Albert Boutwell.
Boutwell was elected Mayor of Birmingham shortly before the SCLC action began there. He was a less vitriolic man than his opponent, Eugene "Bull" Connor. When the clergymen argued Dr. King ought to have waited to give Boutwell a chance to address segregation, Dr. King countered that Boutwell's gentleness should not distract from the fact that he was nevertheless a segregationist.
St. Thomas Aquinas
A 13th century Italian Dominican friar, priest and philosopher who combined Aristotelian philosophy with the principles of Christianity.
An early Christian philosopher and theologian.
A 19th century Jewish philosopher concerned mainly with dialogue between men as fundamental to human existence.
One of the authors of the "A Call for Unity" letter that prompts Dr. King's response. Dr. King commends Rev. Stallings, a white Baptist minister, for opening his church to black Christians.
Letter From Birmingham Jail Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Letter From Birmingham Jail is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The “Letter” is dated April 16, 1963, and addressed to “My Dear Fellow Clergymen.” Dr. King explains that he has read the recent statement published by clergymen in a Birmingham newspaper, describing Dr. King’s recent activities in the city as “...
I think the letter is very convincing: this is why it is still considered an important document in the history of the United States. Though initially begun for a specific purpose, the letter that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote while incarcerated...