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Letter from the Birmingham Jail

4.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,170 Ratings  ·  153 Reviews
Martin Luther King, Jr. rarely had time to answer his critics. But on April 16, 1963, he was confined to the Birmingham jail, serving a sentence for participating in civil rights demonstrations. "Alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell," King pondered a letter that fellow clergymen had published urging him to drop his campaign of nonviolent resistance and ...more
Hardcover, 35 pages
Published August 1st 1994 by HarperOne (first published 1963)
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Community Reviews

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Jan 18, 2015 Rowena rated it it was amazing
A link is provided here for anyone who would like to read this letter:

Wonderful, powerful words. It's crazy to think that over 50 years later the same issues are STILL issues.

"You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails so express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations." <----Now THAT is a point to ponder! It amazes me that those in charge have to be told t
Iris  Pereyra

Letter from Birmingham Jail

 photo MLK_zpswn4dskyq.jpg
Love this picture of MLK smiling!

Until now I had only read the most famous quotes of MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail but I had never taken the time to read the full text.

To many, along with his "I Have A Dream" speech, this letter represents King's most relevant and impactful public statement, because it came at a crucial time when both he and the Civil Rights Movement were being heavily criticized and facing lots of pressure from both the political left and the ri
Debbie "DJ"
Apr 01, 2015 Debbie "DJ" rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
The perfect day to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's address to the eight white clergymen who called his activities in Birmingham "unwise & untimely. Dr. King has an extraordinary ability with words be they in speaking or writing. This impassioned response is one I will not forget. I do find it terribly sad that we are still have so far to go. While I found myself writing down many of his words, one caught my eye "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolut ...more
Lance Greenfield
Jan 26, 2016 Lance Greenfield rated it it was amazing
I have a reputation for writing powerful, effective letters, and I am proud to say that I have successfully fought for the rights of many individuals against the bigger society who have attempted to repress them. However, this letter is many leagues above any letter that I have ever written!

It is inspiring. I wonder if there is any public record of the response from the eight clergymen to whom this open letter was addressed?

My reading of this letter, on the day after Martin Luther King Jr Day (
Jan 20, 2015 Teresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't normally read something based on the day it is, but today's page of my new book-a-day calendar was for Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation and my calendar says the letter "would take its place among works by Thoreau and Lincoln as a signpost of moral argument".

Well, then and there I decided I needed to read it. The letter holds many, many quotable lines (and, sadly, relevance for today) but instead of taking tho
Oct 31, 2015 Soycd rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-novels

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of Harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the so
This long letter is the most important written document of the Civil Rights Era (tied with the Civil Rights Act of '68 itself). Direct action, the connections of all American communities, the lie of 'waiting' for justice to happen.

Required reading. The cause for justice continues.
Jan 20, 2015 Lizzie rated it it was amazing
I read this for the first time as a whole this past MLK Day. A few amazing things struck me: I love how Dr. King starts off and then ends with a whole bit about how he usually is too damn busy to deal with the haters, but since these haters put him in jail he has time to write a really long letter. He also acknowledges in fairly humorous way how long this letter is: "Never before have I written a letter this long -- or should I say a book? ". It is of no surprise to anyone but the writing is ama ...more
Dec 20, 2015 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have lost my review twice now so this will be short. Read this! The text is available online here or at other sites. Dion Graham was a marvelous choice as narrator, as his voice has a similar timbre to MLK's - you can almost feel like King is speaking himself.
May 19, 2016 Ilya rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this at least once.
Mar 23, 2016 Addy rated it it was amazing
What a wondrous piece of literature this is! And you know what? I read this for school... for English... for a Rhetorical Analysis. And, man oh man, was it fantastic.

Background: I know it's kind of odd to add this on here, but I spent hours pouring over this 35 page letter (the version I read was only about 21 pages). I wish you could all see how all of my annotations (*gasp* - I willingly annotated something).

The letter was bloody amazing and so well-written. I wanted to take it and make outl
Jan 17, 2011 Dan rated it it was amazing
I am amazed by the eloquence with each successive reading. Dr. King composed this essay as a response to eight Southern Christian ministers who wrote a letter to the newspaper criticizing King's nonviolent protests and urging him to let the battle over segregation be settled in the courts. They call King an extremist, and question the urgency of his call for racial equality. In a deliberate tone, King categorically answers their criticisms. King knows his audience, and constructs a reply that no ...more
Oct 19, 2015 Martin added it
The only appropriate way to honor this masterpiece of moral strength and clarity, mind-altering eloquence, reason and crystal clear definition of the differences between justice and injustice is to quote the mighty Christopher Hitchens himself: " It is quite read his sermons or watch recordings of his speeches without profound emotion of the sort that can sometimes bring genuine tears. Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written in response to a group of white Christian cle ...more
Jan 22, 2015 Scott rated it it was amazing
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” is one of the purest and utmost examples of how powerful the written word truly is. King summarizes how he was able to write this long letter at the end, apologizing for the length saying, “I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?” The letter is ...more
Aug 05, 2015 Jeremy rated it really liked it
I wanted to read something special for my 800th book, and this certainly meets that definition.

If I ever compile a library of mandatory reading for my future children (as I intend to do), this will be included.

I would highly recommend MLK's entire autobiography (which includes this letter), but at the very least, read "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" online for free:

Edith Hope Bishop
Feb 10, 2011 Edith Hope Bishop rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
Sigh. This piece always makes me sad. And hopeful. And angry. And calm. All at once. And my students love it, although they can get confused about his audience, what exactly civil disobedience is, and why we haven't fixed everything by now.
Feb 23, 2014 Kate rated it it was amazing
I had no idea.

I had heard quotes.

Until I read what came before and after those quotes, I did not realize that the most popularly used words were just the explanation marks and periods of more powerful ideas.
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
One only need to take out references to segregation to realize that too many things remain the same. With the single exception to segregation, and especially when it comes to law enforcement and the justice system, this letter is as relevant today as it was in 1963. That is not ok. We can and must do better.

In Letter from Birmingham Jail, MLK lays out the problem of inequality in a beautiful, powerful, and extremely clear open letter. He reminds the reader that injustice anywhere in a threat to
Dr. Trent
Oct 18, 2013 Dr. Trent rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
This was a truly amazing recording. After hearing this recording, I was struck by how Dr. King could take so many ideas from so many sources and smoothly and coherently tie them together. In this speech, Dr. King eloquently uses parallelism, allusion, and metaphor to paint a clear image of what the black community was experiencing in the South at this time. His arguments are clear and his definitions are accurate. Just as the pastors he was speaking to, I felt compelled and duty-bound to address ...more
Jan 23, 2008 Steven rated it it was amazing
On April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat down in the Birmingham Jail and crafted this masterpiece. I was first exposed to the letter in high school when my AP English teacher had us read this in conjunction with another book I have forgotten as a lesson in persuasive writing. While it is the perhaps the seminal example of persuasive writing, for those of us who live in what was the segregated South it is much more. As such, I try to read either this letter or other writings from Dr. Ki ...more
Jan 11, 2008 Ben rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
Written after I read the letter as a junior in college 1998:

“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation”. He asserts that if anything great is ever to happen, it will take men of action and vision to accomplish it.

It was clear that Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the power of the individual. He demonstrated t
Jan 01, 2015 Regan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful, brief explanation of the reasons and justifications for civil protest that's just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. It's hard to know how I got this far in life without this having been required reading somewhere. It won't take longer than your commute to listen to this beautifully read audio edition.There's just no reason you shouldn't read this!
Wanda Hartzenberg
Jun 26, 2013 Wanda Hartzenberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I had no idea what I was letting myself infor when I started to listen to this recording.

When I found that Martin Luther King Jr was addressing pastors who verbally attacked his modus operandi I started to get interested.

I was drawn in by his masterful use of words to persuade, draw images and address issues encompassing oppression but in no way limited to the subject.

It is clear that he was an extremely intelligent well versed man who found the time not to pressure, to attack or tear down, but
Jan 17, 2015 Cathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
audiobook note: Dion Graham brings out the Reverend in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., calling on powerful tones, effective pauses, and inspiring speech cadence to reflect King's singular balance of wisdom, passion, eloquence, and conviction.
Ray LaManna
May 15, 2016 Ray LaManna rated it it was amazing
This letter is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago....
Jarrett L. Rineer
Mar 31, 2015 Jarrett L. Rineer rated it it was amazing
What a way to clearly communicate a difference in opinion!
Krystl Louwagie
Feb 18, 2014 Krystl Louwagie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, come on. What bad things can you really say about this?
Sep 29, 2015 Kira rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this
Jan 21, 2015 Omar rated it it was amazing
This is truly a masterpiece.
Del Herman
Jan 18, 2016 Del Herman rated it it was amazing
Every once in a blue moon, there comes a man with the purest insight of the heart and the thickest intelligence of the mind. Not only that, but once in a blue moon there rises a man with said qualities who does not hush up his strength of mind and soul and turns his inner virtue into an outward revolution. It happened in Ancient Athens with Socrates, in India with Mohandas Gandhi, and it happened in the American South with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here summed up is the Christian
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Madison Mega-Mara...: Letter from a Birmingham Jail 1 5 Jul 14, 2013 10:18PM  
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Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the pivotal leaders of the American civil rights movement. King was a Baptist minister, one of the few leadership roles available to black men at the time. He became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956) and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), serving as its first president. His ef ...more
More about Martin Luther King Jr....

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“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.” 114 likes
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” 71 likes
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