During the most tense moments of the Birmingham Alabama
racial crisis, eight of the city's clergymen prepared a public statement
which called the demonstrations "unwise and untimely", and questioned the
presence of "outsiders". The vexing questions raised in the public statement
are being asked by people who live far away from Birmingham: Jackson, Mississippi;
and Albany, Georgia. While in the city jail, the Reverend Martin Luther
King, Jr. (the chief "outsider") wrote a lengthy and considered reply to
that statement. His response offers one of the clearest written extant
answers to the questions, at the same time that it assesses candidly the
present position of Negroes on the subject of nonviolence. Important and
new developments in the field of racial integration are presaged in this
timely and unusual letter, generous exceprts from which appear in the following
here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement
calling our present activities "unwise and untimely". Seldom, if ever,
do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas.....But since I
feel that you are men of genuine goodwill, and your criticisms are
sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what
I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have
been influenced by the argument of "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 affiliate
organizations all across the South--one being the Alabama Christian
Movement for Human Rights. Whenever necessary and possible we share
staff, education and financial resources with our affiliates. Several
months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited 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 promises. So I am here, along with several members of my
staff, because we were invited here. I am here because I have basic
organizational ties here.
I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Moreover.......I am cognizant
of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit
idly by 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 Staes can never be considered
an outsider anywhere in this country.
the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But
I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for
the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure
that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst
who looks merely at effects, and does not grapple with underlying causes.
I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations
are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more
emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power
structure of this city left the Negro community with no alternative.
(for full text of this article, please see the Circulation Librarian)