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Letter from Birmingham Jail

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Martin Luther King Jr.
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Martin Luther King Jr.

The Letter From Birmingham Jail, commonly but incorrectly rendered Letter From a Birmingham Jail, was an open letter on April 16, 1963 written by Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader. King wrote the letter from the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, after a peaceful protest of segregation. The letter is a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963 titled "A Call For Unity" which agreed that social injustices were taken place but believed that the battles should be taken solely to the court not to the streets in order to better the city of Birmingham. King responded that without 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 held that Civil Disobedience is justified in the face of unjust laws.

The letter is a classic example of rhetoric, employing both formal references to the Paul of Tarsus, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Thomas Aquinas as well as more sentimental descriptions of his daughter's "tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children."

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