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Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  240 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here," declared Martin Luther King, Jr. He had come to that city of racist terror convinced that massive protest could topple Jim Crow. But the insurgency faltered. To revive it, King made a sacrificial act on Good Friday, April 12, 1963: he was arrested. Alone in his cell, reading a newspaper, he found a statement from eight "moder ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published April 9th 2013 by Bloomsbury Press (first published April 2nd 2013)
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Clif Hostetler
Jan 19, 2015 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book reviews the historical events leading up to the writing of the Letter from Birmingham Jail, describes the context of events within which it was written, parses its text with careful comparison to King’s sermons and speeches, and then reports on the aftermath and responses to the letter. I think the author has done a fine job of illuminating the text and explaining its significance as part of the civil rights movement. The full text of the letter is included in the appendix of the book. ...more
Robin Friedman
Aug 01, 2013 Robin Friedman rated it it was amazing
This year, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of several key events from the civil rights era of 1963. The historical events include the March on Washington of August 28, 1963, with Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. They include as well the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" which Dr. King wrote in prison in April, 1963, in the middle of demonstrations against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Released in April, 2013 to coincide with the anniversary of the "Letter", Jonathan Rieder's book ...more
Jun 13, 2013 Hannah rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm ashamed that I had not yet read Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and also, how much of what I know about the Civil Rights Movement is a series of generalities and "popular history". I'm going to aim to learn more about the history of minorities in the United States. I need a more historically accurate framework in which to place my perspectives on privilege. If anyone has recommendations on that front, I would much appreciate it. As a sidenote, it was refreshing to rea ...more
Feb 14, 2014 Monk rated it really liked it
Solid study of the Birmingham letter and its historical context. Balanced approach, not heavy on the hero worship. Structured very well so that when you go through the letter itself, you understand the references to contemporaneous events. Very much worth a read.
Jan 20, 2014 Christine rated it really liked it
It would have been amazing to have really known MLKJ. The more I learn about him, the more I think that to be true!
Apr 28, 2015 Jen rated it liked it
My favorite part of the book was reading King's letter from Birmingham. The rest of the analysis and history was interesting, but I would probably just suggest reading one of King's books instead.
Warhammer Grantham
Jun 30, 2016 Warhammer Grantham rated it it was amazing
I grew up hearing in in February of every school year how Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero and stood up for the rights of black people via peaceful marches and protests, then somebody shot and killed him for it.

That was a gross oversimplification.

Gospel of Freedom tackles the series of events that led up to and influences King's arguably most famous written work, 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'. I didn't know! I didn't know how hard King had to work to keep people from turning violent after getti
Feb 03, 2014 Daniel rated it really liked it
How does a father explain to his six-year-old daughter that she can't go to a local amusement park because her skin isn't the "right" colour? I came into this book knowing little else of Martin Luther King, Jr. than his "I Have a Dream" speech and a scattering of assorted quotations. To find out that his resolve to fight for a better future was largely galvanized by an incident as specific as that amusement park? It certainly places his struggle in a much more personal and intimate light.

Nov 01, 2013 Scott rated it really liked it
A fine book and an enjoyable read.

Rieder gives great background and context for the Birmingham campaign and the story of how and why King wrote the Letter. Then, there are two chapters of detailed commentary and examination of the Letter. Rieder spent much time reading and listening to various King sermons, so he gives examples of how the thoughts, words, and phrases of the Letter had developed out of King's preaching and writing. At times a thought has sharpened, at other times he softens it ju
Mar 25, 2014 Yasmin rated it really liked it
The letter itself in full is amazing. The book says a lot has been achieved since MLK's time. Indeed much has happened and I have often wondered what happened to those that screamed at black students? How could after years and years of hatred and ugliness shouted in the streets and house bombing, church bombing, etc. Did a sudden light go off and those vile people shut up and stop being publicly hateful? How? But while his dream came true toa certain point there are still more black youths dropp ...more
Jan 20, 2015 Becky marked it as to-read
From Book Lover's 2015 Page-A-Day Calendar »

Martin Luther King Jr. came to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, convinced that massive protests could topple Jim Crow. But the movement failed, and to revive it, King allowed himself to be arrested. While he was in his cell, he read a newspaper article written by eight clergymen who objected to the protests. King drafted an indignant rebuttal that became the "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which would take its place among works by Thoreau and Lincoln as a
Joe Rodeck
Jan 27, 2014 Joe Rodeck rated it it was amazing
"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here."

This book starts in Birmingham, AL, the Johannesburg of the USA. The author skips all the dull biographical detail and gets right into it, the German Shepherds, the power hoses blowing children over the roofs of cars. He shows King's human side and weaknesses. More importantly, he elucidates exactly what King's civil rights challenges were; the main one being that he was repeatedly being told it is not yet time . . . let it evolve naturally.

Dec 09, 2014 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this account of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, especially in light of the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, is a yet another poignant reminder of the long path we still have to travel to establish trust and achieve justice for all. We are not free, until we are all free.

One recommendation I have to future readers of this book would to be to start with the actual Letter from Birmingham, located at the back of the book, before rea
Kent Winward
Jan 21, 2014 Kent Winward rated it really liked it
This was a good choice to start reading on MLK Day. I started my life at the same time the Birmingham Protest began and the world has significantly altered for the better since that time in race relations. I found it jarring to see just how bad things were 50 years ago. We forget that freedom is something that comes through effort, not through a bestow-ment from on high. My biggest regret about the book was that it didn't include the actual letter itself, but rather just gave excerpts. All in al ...more
Rick Lee James
A wonderful reminder of where we still need to go

Martin Luther King Junior's letter from a Birmingham jail is in my opinion nothing short of prophetic. This book is a commentary of sorts on the letter as well as a look at the letters influence and the kind of history of the civil rights movement in America. I read this book on Martin Luther King day and found my heart stirred by it and longing to see the kingdom of God, and it's fullness. If you've never read the letter, I first recommend you re
Jul 22, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing
This is a thorough and wonderfully readable analysis of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," including the context of events leading to the letter and its aftermath. The Letter was never included in curriculum for my high school or college classes, so although I am familiar with some of its most famous passages ("Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," for example), I have never studied it. I was personally convicted reading Dr. King's message for myself, espec ...more
Nov 03, 2014 David rated it really liked it
Rieder gives an analysis of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," including the context of events leading to the letter and its aftermath. It's truly amazing all he and others endured during this time. Very readable. Two critiques: 1) I would have loved more background and personal information about King (this speaks more to the book I wanted it to be instead of what it was, which is why I don't deduct much from the rating); 2) there are so many references to the letter and th ...more
Jan 20, 2014 Craig rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
Gives background information and centers on Martin Luther King's famous letter written while in jail in Birmingham, Alabama, in April, 1963, charged with civil disobedience. His letter was written in response to clergy and other detractors who had spoken out and published articles against his quest for freedom.
May 18, 2015 David rated it it was amazing
I very much enjoyed this journey through the history and mean of Dr King's Letter from Birmingham Jail. I've also found Dr. King to be an inspiration figure, and an amazing orator. This book adds more depth to his character and better explains the evolution of his thoughts. The end of the book explores just some of the impacts of Dr. King's letter which are astounding themselves.
May 14, 2013 Kenneth rated it really liked it
Very good insight on the early 1960's civil rights movement. I thought it gave us a graphic look into the daily struggles of Black people in the South as they cried out for equal treatment. as citizens of the United States.
Aug 10, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it
Rieder "gushes" a might too often about King but this is an interesting look at modern day history--especially if you are a boomer who was likely an older elementary student or in junior/senior high when these events happened.
Sam Motes
Jan 20, 2014 Sam Motes rated it really liked it
Gives the back story up to the incarceration as well as Dr King's words of wisdom from the jail cell. Great insight into why King's seminal work was so important and why it is still treasured by many today.
May 18, 2013 Jbondandrews rated it liked it
While I for the most part I enjoyed reading this book, I object to the need to refer to King's visit to his mistress in his time of stress. I would have given more stars but for this and the fact that Jonathan Rieder thought people regarded King as a dreamy figure.
Jan 02, 2015 Shea rated it it was amazing
Disappointed that I just now read this. Really great and super easy to read. I want to understand how someone like MLK thinks and works, what his psyche was like. Felt like this book gave a decent glimpse of that.
Katie Gamble
Jan 07, 2015 Katie Gamble rated it it was amazing
Great read for going deeper into the person, politics and faith of Martin Luther King, Jr. Not an introductory or easy read, but a skillful deconstruction of the Letter from Birmingham Jail, it's message, it's symbolism, and it's place in history.
Apr 25, 2013 Peggy rated it really liked it
This was an interesting read with amazing insight into the mind of King - his struggles and frustrations leading up to his Birmingham arrest, his despondency during his incarceration, the anger that sparked such a remarkable document, and the letter's indelible mark on the Civil Rights movement.
Dee Anne
Aug 27, 2013 Dee Anne rated it it was amazing
Appreciated reading this on retreat during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Lots of good background on the Birmingham campaign a few months earlier and affinity between the "Letter" and the "I Have a Dream" speech. Scary question: Would I be a "white moderate"?
Jan 13, 2014 Megan rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, griot
Topic was interesting, book was just a little dry. I do appreciate, and I did find the context/background interesting but the read felt like work. Don't miss reading the actual letter in the very back after acknowledgments, best part of the book.
Shana Jespersen
Feb 07, 2014 Shana Jespersen rated it really liked it
Humbling and uncomfortable for most of the book. A very good account of the time.
Oct 08, 2014 Rick rated it it was amazing
An excellent study of the application of non-violent civil disobedience. My respect for MLK, Jr went way up while reading this.
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“We are gravely mistaken if we feel that Christianity is a religion to protect us from the pain and agony of mortal existence. Christianity has always insisted that there is a Good Friday before every Easter, and that the cross we bear always precedes the crown we wear.” 1 likes
“He took aim at the core of American culture, the vast universe of people who imagined themselves to be decent but never dwelled on the shame of American racism.” 1 likes
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