As part of my MLK Day of Service rituals every year I always enjoy reading Martin Luther King, Jr.'s letter which he wrote from the jail in Birmingham, Alabama after being arrested along with several hundred others for disobeying a court injunction against peaceful civil rights actions he helped to organize there. While in solitary confinement, he was slipped a newspaper advertisement written by eight clergymen from several faiths. They criticized the demonstrations that King was leading calling the participants extremists, law breakers, and believers in anarchy. Concerned, upset, and righteously indignant, he wrote a response in the margins of the paper.
The Letter from Birmingham Jail or Letter from Birmingham City Jail, is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader. King wrote the letter from the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was confined after being arrested for his part in the Birmingham campaign, a planned non-violent protest conducted by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference against racial segregation by Birmingham's city government and downtown retailers.
King's letter is a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963, titled "A Call For Unity". The clergymen agreed that social injustices existed but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not in the streets. King responded that without nonviolent forceful direct actions such as his, true civil rights could never be achieved. As he put it, "This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'" He asserted that not only was civil disobedience justified in the face of unjust laws, but that "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."