Letter From Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr.

January 2nd, 2007 / 2 Comments

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, written after a sit-in in Birmingham, Alabama, was a response to southern white church leaders who argued that the issue of racial segregation should be decided in the courts rather than exercised through King’s program of nonviolent social disturbance. King’s letter shows a carefully articulated argument, written appeal to white segregationist readers while at the same time firmly stating that King has no intentions of backing down. The letter also reveals King’s profound intellect as he interacts with with prominent ethicists and theologians of his day. Most importantly, we see an example of the patience and perseverance necessary for King’s program of nonviolent resistance.

"Letter From Birmingham Jail"


  1. Why does King argue that racial segregation is not simply a matter for the courts to decide?
  2. In what ways does King treat the church different from the state?
  3. In what ways can/should we apply this distinction as Christians in the 21st century?
  4. Has reading Letter From Birmingham Jail changed your opinion of Martin Luther King Jr?

Comments (2)

  1. Katie Bailey / October 30, 2007

    Hello Scott

    My name is Katie Bailey, I am a student at West Virginia State University. I am taking a civil rights class this semester and have a group project on Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.

    King argued that racial segregation is not simply a matter for the courts to decide because he knew as a Christian that it would take all of mankind to break down the walls of racial barriers. If every person in this world acted out of Christian love for one another, then I feel that the laws that we have in this country would not be difficult for all to abide by.

    I feel he treats the church differently than the state because he realizes that clergymen know better than to treat segregation as if it is a just way to live. Not only is it unjust but a violation of an even higher law that we all must live by, “love one another, as I have loved you.”

    In the 21st century it is a shame that so many horrible things happen everyday in this world. However we as Christians must live the way that Jesus intended for us to live - to love one another, help fellow human beings, even those who hurt you, no matter what.

    After reading his letter, I have even more respect than what I had before. It actually brought tears to my eyes some of the things he wrote. I can not imagine what atrocities and humiliations blacks had to endure.

    Thank you for this website, it is an eye opener.

    Take care,

    Katie Bailey
    St Albans, WV

  2. Adam Jones / July 20, 2009

    I think King brings a healthy challenge to the traditional interpretation of separation of church and state. United States Christianity often, but not always, seems absent from political, economic, and social spheres. I believe King offered an example of how the body of Christ can engage society together and challenge the “order” of things. He stated in that letter that “white moderates” preffered keeping the “order” over justice. They preferred a negative peace devoid of justice to a positive peace with justice present. I think the American church still struggles to awake from its slavery to order and pursue justice.

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