Letter From Birmingham Jail
                by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

My dear Fellow Clergymen,

     While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came
across your recent statement calling our present activities
"unwise and untimely."  Seldom, if every, do I pause to answer
criticism of my work and ideas.  If I sought to answer all of the
criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in
little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time
for constructive work.  But since I feel that you are men of
genuine goodwill and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I
would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be
patient and reasonable terms.

     I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham
since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders com-
ing in."  I have the honor of serving as president of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operat-
ing in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Geor-
gia.  We have some eighty-five affiliate organizations all across
the South -- one being the Alabama Christian Movement for Human
Rights.  Whenever necessary and possible we share staff, educa-
tional and financial resources with our affiliates.  Several
months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to
be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if
such were deemed necessary.  We readily consented and when the

hour came we lived up to our promises.  So I am here, along with
several members of my staff, because we were invited here.  I am
here because I have basic organizational ties here.

     Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.
Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages
and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries
of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little
village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to prac-
tically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am
compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular
home town.  Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the
Macedonian call for aid.

     Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all com-
munities and states.  I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be
concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  Injustice anywhere
is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an ines-
capable network of mutuality, tied in a single gourmet of des-
tiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial
"outside agitator" idea.  Anyone who lives inside the United
States can never be considered an outsider anywhere int his

     You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking
place in Birmingham.  But I am sorry that your statement did not


express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the
demonstrations into being.  I am sure that each of you would want
to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at
effects, and does not grapple with underlying causes.  I would
not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called
demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I
would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate
that the white power structure of this city left the Negro com-
munity with no other alternative.

     In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 
1) Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are
alive.  2) Negotiations.  3) Self-purification and 4) Direct Ac-
tion.  WE have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham.
There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice en-
gulfs this community.

     Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city
in the United States.  Its ugly record of police brutality is
known in every section of this country.  Its unjust treatment of
Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality.  There have been
more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham
than any city in this nation.  These are the hard, brutal and un-
believable facts.  On the basis of these conditions Negro leaders
sought to negotiate with the city fathers.  But the political
leaders consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.


     Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some
of the leaders of the economic community.  In these negotiating
sessions certain promises were made by the merchants--such as the
promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores.
On the basis of these promises Rev. Shuttlesworth and the leaders
of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call
a moratorium on any type of demonstrations.  As the weeks and
months unfolded we realized that we were the victims of a broken
promise.  The signs remained.  Like so many experiences of the
past we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow
of a deep disappointment settled upon us.  So we had no alterna-
tive except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would
present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the
conscience of the local and national community.  We were not un-
mindful of the difficulties involved.  So we decided to go
through a process of self-purification.  We started having
workshops on non-violence and repeatedly asked ourselves the
questions, "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?"
"Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?"  We decided to set
our direct action program around the Easter season, realizing
that with the exception of Christmas, this was the largest shop-
ping period of the year.  Knowing that a strong economic
withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we
felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on the mer-


chants for the needed changes.  Then it occurred to us that the
March election was ahead and so we speedily decided to postpone
action until after election day.  When we discovered that Mr.
Connor was in the run-off, we decided again to postpone action so
that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues.
At this time we agreed to being our nonviolent witness the day
after run-off.

     This reveals that we did not more irresponsibly into direct
action.  We too wanted to see Mr. Connor defeated; so we went
through postponement after postponement to aid in this community
need.  After this we felt that direct action would be delayed no

     You may well ask, "Why direct action?  Why sit-ins, marches,
etc.? Isn't negotiation a better path?"  You are exactly right in
your call for negotiation.  Indeed, this is the purpose of direct
action.  Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis
and establish such creative tension that a community that has
constantly refused to negotiated is forced to confront the issue.
It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ig-
nored.  I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of
the work of the nonviolent resister.  This may sound rather
shocking.  But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word
tension.  I have earnestly worked and preached against violent
tension, but there is a type of construction nonviolent tension


that is necessary for growth.  Just as Socrates felt that it was
necessary to create a tension in the mind so individuals could
rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered
realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see
the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of ten-
sion in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths
of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding
and brotherhood.  So the purpose of the direct action is to
create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open
the door to negotiation.  We, therefore, concur with you in your
call for negotiation.  Too long has our beloved Southland been
bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather
than dialogue.

     One of the basic points in your statement is that our acts
are untimely.  Some have asked, "Why didn't you give the new ad-
ministration time to act?"  The only answer that I can give to
this inquiry is that the new administration must be prodded about
as much as the outgoing one before it acts.  We will be sadly
mistaken if we feel that the election of Mr. Boutwell will bring
the millennium to Birmingham.  While Mr. Boutwell is more more
articulate and gentle than Mr. Connor, they are both
segregationists, dedicated to the task of maintaining the status
quo.  The hope I see in Mr. Boutwell is that he will be
reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to


desegregation.  But he will not see this without pressure from
the devotees of civil rights.  My friends, I must say to you that
we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined
legal and nonviolent pressure.  History is the long and tragic
story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their
privileges voluntarily.  Individuals may see the moral light and
voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr
has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never
voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the
oppressed.  Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action
movement that was "well timed", according to the timetable of
those who have not suffered unduly from he disease of segrega-
tion.  For years now I have heard the words "Wait!"  It rings in
the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity.  This "Wait"
has almost always meant "Never."  It has been a tranquilizing
thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to
give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration.  We must come
to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that "justice
too long delayed is justice denied."  We have waited for more
than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and
God-given rights.  The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with
jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we
still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup


of coffee at a lunch counter.  I guess it is easy for those who
have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait."
but when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and
fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when
you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and
even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you
see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers
smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an af-
fluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and
your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-
old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that
has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up
in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to
colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority
begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to dis-
tort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitter-
ness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for
a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos:  "Daddy, why do
white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a
cross country drive and find in necessary to sleep night after
night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no
motel will accept; when you are humiliated day in and day out by
nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name
becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy" (however old


you are) and your last name becomes "John", and when you wife and
mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."l; when you are
harried by day and haunted at night by the fact that you are
Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing
what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer
resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense
of "nobodiness"; then you will understand why we find it dif-
ficult to wait.  There comes a time when the cup of endurance
runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an
abyss of injustice where they experience the blackness of corrod-
ing despair.  I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and
unavoidable impatience.

     You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to
break laws.  This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so
diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of
1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather
strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws.
One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and
obeying others?"  The answer is found in the fact that there are
two types of laws;  There are just and unjust laws.  I would
agree with Saint Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."
Now what is the difference between the two?  How does one
determine when 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 un-


just law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.  To
put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a
human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.  Any law
that uplifts human personality is just.  Any law that degrades
human personality is unjust.  All segregation statues are unjust
because segregation distorts the soul and damages the per-
sonality.  It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority,
and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.  To use the
words of Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation
substitutes an "I-it" relationship for the "I-thou" relationship,
and ends up relating persons to the status of things.  So
segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologi-
cally unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful.  Paul Tillich
has said that sin is separation.  Isn't segregation an exist-
ential expression of man's tragic separation, an expression of
his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?  So I can urge
men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally

     Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust
laws.  An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a
minority that is not binding on itself.  This is difference made
legal.  On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority
compels a minority to follow that is willing to follow itself.
this is sameness made legal.


Let me give another explanation.  An unjust law is a code
inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in
enacting or creating because they did not have the unhampered
right to vote.  who can say that the legislature of Alabama which
set up the segregation laws was democratically  elected?
Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods
are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered votes and
there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote
despite the fact that the Negro constitutes a majority of the
population.  Can any law set up in such a state be considered
democratically structured?

     These are just a few examples of unjust and just laws.
There are some instances when a law is just on its fact and un-
just in its application.  For instance, I was arrested Friday on
a charge of parading without a permit.   Now there is nothing
wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but
when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny
citizens the First Amendment privilege  of peaceful assembly and
peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.

     I hope you can see the distinction I am trying to point out.
In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law as the rabid
segregationist would do.  This would lead to anarchy.  One who
breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, (not hatefully
as the white mothers did in New Orleans when they were seen on


television screaming "nigger, nigger, nigger"), and with a will-
ingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who
breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly
accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience
of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the
very highest respect for law.

     Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil
disobedience.  It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shardrach,
Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a
higher moral law was involved.  It is practiced superbly by the
early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the
excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to cer-
tain unjust laws of the Roman empire.  To a degree academic
freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil dis-

     We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany
was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in
Hungary was "illegal".  It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew
in Hitler's Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany
during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish
brothers even though it was illegal.  If I lived in a Communist
country today where certain principles dear to the Christian
faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobey-
ing these anti-religious laws.  I must make two honest confes-


sions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers.  first, I must
confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disap-
pointed with the white moderate.  I have almost reached the
regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in
the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er
or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more
devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peach
which is the absence of tension to a positive peach which is the
presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in
the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct
action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the
timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of
time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more
convenient season".  Shallow understanding from people of good-
will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from
people of ill will.   Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewilder-
ing than outright rejection.

     I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that
law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and
that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured
dams that block the flow of social progress.  I had hopes that
the white moderate would understand that the present tension of
the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an
obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his


unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all
men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.  Ac-
tually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the
creators of tension.  We merely bring to the surface the hidden
tension that is already alive.  We bring it out in the open where
it can be seen and dealt with.  Like a boil that can never be
cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its
pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light,
injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its
exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of
national opinion before it can be cured.

     In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though
peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence.
But can this assertion be logically made?  Isn't this like con-
demning the robbed man because his possession of money
precipitated the evil act of robbery?  Isn't this like condemning
Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his
philosophical delvings precipitated the misguided popular mind to
make him drink the hemlock?  Isn't this like condemning Jesus be-
cause hIs unique God-Consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to
His will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion?  We must come
to see, as federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is
immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his
basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates


violence.  Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the
myth of time.   I received a letter this morning from a white
brother in Texas which said:  "All Christians know that the
colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is
possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry.  It has
taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has.
The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth."  All that is
said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time.  It is the
strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very
flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.  Actually time
is neutral.  It can be used either destructively or construc-
tively.  I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have
used time more more effectively than the people of goodwill.  We
will have to repent in this generation not merely for the
vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the ap-
palling silence of the good people.  We must come to see that
human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.  It
comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work 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.
We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is
always ripe to do right.  Now is the time to make real the
promise of democracy, and transform our pending national elegy


into a creative psalm of brotherhood.  Now is the time to lift
our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the
solid rock of human dignity.

     You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme.  At
first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see
my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist.  I started
thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two oppos-
ing forces in the Negro community.  One is a force of complacency
made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression,
have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of
"somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation, and, of a
few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of
academic and economic security, and because at points they profit
by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the
problems of the masses.  The other force is one of bitterness and
hatred, and comes perilously close to advocating violence.  It is
expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are spring
up over the nation, the larger and best known being Elijah
Muhammad's Muslim movement.  This movement is nourished by the
contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial
discrimination.  It is made up of people who have lost faith in
America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who
have concluded that the white man is an incurable "devil".  I
have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need


not follow the "do-nothingism" of the complacent or the hatred
and despair of the black nationalist.  There is the more excel-
lent way of love and non-violent protest.  I'm grateful to God
that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence en-
tered our struggle.  If this philosophy had not emerged, I am
convinced that by now many streets of the south would be flowing
the floods of blood.  And I am further convinced that if our
white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside
agitators" those of us who are working through the channels of
nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes, out of frustration and
despair, will seek solace and security in black nationalist
ideologies, a development that he will lead inevitably to a
frightening racial nightmare.

     Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.  The urge
for freedom will eventually come.  It is what happened to the
American Negro.  Something within has reminded him of his
birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he
can gain it.  Consciously and unconsciously, he has been swept in
by what the Germans call the Zeitgeist, and with his black
brothers of Africa, and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia,
South America and the Caribbean, he is moving with a sense of
cosmic urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.
Recognizing this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro com-
munity, one should readily understand public demonstrations.  The


Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations.   He
has to get them out.  So let him march sometime; let him have his
prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have
sit-ins and freedom rides.  If his repressed emotions do not come
out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous ex-
pressions of violence.  This is not a threat; it is a fact of
history.  So I have not said to my people "get rid of your
discontent".  But I have tried to say that this normal and heal-
thy discontent can be channelized through the creative outlet of
nonviolent direct action.  Now this approach is being dismissed
as extremist.  I must admit that I was initially disappointed in
being so categorized.

     But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually
gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.
Was not Jesus an extremist in love - "Love your enemies, bless
them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you."
Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down
like waters and righteousness like a might stream."  Was not Paul
an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "bear in my body
the marks of the Lord Jesus."  Was not Martin Luther an extremist
-- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God."  Was not
John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my
days before I make a butchery of my conscience."  Was not Abraham
Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave


and half free."  Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -[- "We
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal."  So the question is not whether we will be extremist but
what kind of extremist will we be.  Will we be extremists for
hate or will be be extremists for love?  Will be be extremists
for the preservation of injustice -- or will we be extremists for
the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill,
three men were crucified.   We must not forget that all three
were crucified for the same crime -- the crime of extremism.  Two
were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their en-
vironment.  The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love,
truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.  So,
after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire
need of creative extremists.

     I had hoped that the white moderate would see this.  Maybe I
was too optimistic.  Maybe I expected too much.  I guess I should
have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed
another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and
passionate yearnings of those  that have been oppressed and still
fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by
strong, persistent and determined action.  I am thankful,
however, that some of our white brothers have grasped the meaning
of this social revolution and committed themselves to it.  They
are still all too small in quantity, but they are big in quality.


Some like Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden and James
Dabbs have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic and
understanding terms.  Others have marched with us down nameless
streets of the South.  They have languished in filthy roach-
infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of angry
policemen who see them as "dirty nigger lovers."  They, unlike so
many of their moderate brothers and sisters, have recognized the
urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action"
antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

     Let me rush on to mention my other disappointment.  I have
been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its
leadership.  Of course, there are some notable exceptions.  I am
not the unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some
significant stands on this issue.  I commend you, Rev. Stallings,
for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming
Negroes to your worship service on a non-segregated basis.  I
commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Sprin-
ghill College several years ago.

     But despite these notable exceptions I must honestly
reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church.  I do
not say that as one of the negative critics who can always find
something wrong with the church; I say it as a minister of the
gospel, who loves the church; who has nurtured in its bosom; who
has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain


true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted
into the leadership off the bus protest in Montgomery several
years ago that we would have the support of the white church.  I
felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South
would be some of our strongest allies.  Instead, some have been
outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement
and misrepresenting its leaders;  all too many others have been
more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the
anesthetizing security of the stained-glass windows.
In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Bir-
mingham  with the hope that the white religious leadership of
this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep
moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just
grievances would get to the power structure.   I had hoped that
each of you would understand.  But again I have been disap-
pointed.  I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South
call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation deci-
sion because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white min-
isters say, "Follow this decree because integration is morally
right and the Negro is your brother."  In the midst of blatant
injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white
churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious ir-
relevances and sanctimonious trivialities.  In the midst of a


mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injus-
tice, I have heard so many ministers say, "Those are social
issues with which the gospel has no real concern," and I have
watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-
worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body
and soul, the sacred and the secular.

     So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth cen-
tury with a religious community largely adjusted to the status
quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies
rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.

     I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Missis-
sippi and all the other southern states.  On weltering summer
days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at her beautiful
churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward.  I have be-
held the impressive outlay of her massive religious education
buildings.  Over and over again I have found myself asking:
"What kind of people worship here?  Who is their God?  Where were
their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words
of interposition and nullification?  Where were they when Gover-
nor Wallace gave the clarion call for defiance and hatred?  Where
were their voices of support when tired, bruised and weary Negro
men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of com-
placency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

     Yes, these questions are still in my mind.  In deep disap-


pointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church.  But be as-
sured that my tears have been tears of love.  There can be no
deep disappointment where there is not deep love.  Yes, I love
the church; I love her sacred walls.  How could I do otherwise?
I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson
and the great-grandson of preachers.  Yes, I see the church as
the body of Christ.  but, oh! How we have blemished and scarred
that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconform-

     There was a time when the church was very powerful.  It was
during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they
were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.  In those
days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the
ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that
transformed the mores of society.  Wherever the early Christians
entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately
sought to convict them for being "disturbers of the peace" and
"outside agitators."  But they went on with the convection that
they were "a colony of heaven," and had to obey God rather than
man.  They were small in number but big in commitment.  They were
too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated."  They
brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and
gladiatorial contest.

     Things are different now.  The contemporary church is often


a  weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.  It is so of-
ten the arch supporter of the status quo.  Far from being dis-
turbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the
average community is consoled by the church's silent and often
vocal sanction of things as they are.

     But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before.
If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit
of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the
loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social
club with no meaning for the twentieth century.  I am meeting
young people every day whose disappointment with the church has
risen to outright disgust.

     Maybe again, I have been too optimistic.  Is organized
religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our na-
tion and the world?  Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner
spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ec-
clesia and the hope of the world.  But again I am thankful to God
that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have
broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined
us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.  They have
left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany,
Georgia, with us.  They have gone through the highways of the
South on tortuous rides for freedom.  Yes, they have gone to jail
with us.  Some have been kicked out of their churches, and lost


support of their bishops and fellow ministers.  But they have
gone with the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil
triumphant.  These men have been the leaven in the lump of the
race.  Their witness have been the spiritual salt that has
preserved the true meaning of the Gospel in these troubled times.
They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of

     I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this
decisive hour.  But even if the church does not come to the aid
of justice, I have no despair about the future.  I have no fear
about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our mo-
tives are presently misunderstood.  We will reach the goal of
freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal
of America is freedom.  Abused and scorned though we may be, our
destiny is tied up with the destiny of America.  before the
pilgrims landed at Plymouth we were here.  Before the pen of Jef-
ferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of
the Declaration of Independence, we were here.  For more than two
centuries our foreparents labored in this country without wages;
they made cotton king; and they built the homes of their masters
in the midst of brutal injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet
out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and
develop.  If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not
stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.  We will


win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the
eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

     I must close now.  But before closing I am impelled to men-
tion one other point in your statement that troubled me
profoundly.  You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for
keeping "order" and preventing violence".  I don't believe you
would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen
its angry violent dogs literally biting six unarmed, nonviolent
Negroes.  I don't believe you would so quickly commend the
policemen if you would observe their ugly and inhuman treatment
of Negroes here in the city jail; if you would watch them push
and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you would see
them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you will ob-
serve them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food
because we wanted to sing our grace together.  I'm sorry that I
can't join you in your praise for the police department.

     It is true that they have been rather disciplined in their
public handling of the demonstrators.  In this sense they have
been rather publicly "nonviolent".  But for what purpose?  To
preserve the evil system of segregation.  Over the last few years
I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the
means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.  So I have
tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to
attain moral ends.  but now I must affirm that it is just as


wrong, or even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral
ends.  Maybe Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather
publicly nonviolent, as Chief Pritchett was in Albany, Georgia,
but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the
immoral end of flagrant racial injustice.  T. S. Eliot has said
that there is no greater treason than to do the right deed for
the wrong reason.

     I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and
demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their
willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst
of the most inhuman provocation.  One day the South will recog-
nize its real heroes.  They will be the James Merediths,
courageiously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering
and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes
the life of the pioneer.  They will be old, oppressed, battered
Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two year old woman of
Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with
her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and
responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungram-
matical profundity:  "My feet is tired, but my soul is rested."
They will be the young high school and college students, young
ministers of the Gospel and a host of their elders courageously
and nonviolently sitting-in at lunch counters and willingly going
to jail for conscience's sake.  One day the South will know that


when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch coun-
ters they were in reality standing up for the best in the
American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian
heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those
great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding
fathers in the formulation of the constitution and the Declara-
tion of Independence.

     Never before have I written a letter this long (or should I
say a book?).  I'm afraid that it is much to long to take your
precious time.  I can assure you that it would have been much
shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what
else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull
monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters,
think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?

     If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstate-
ment of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable im-
patience, I beg you to forgive me.  If I have said anything in
this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indica-
tive of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything
less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

     I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith.  I also
hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet
each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader,
but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother.  Let us all


hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away
and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our
fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow
the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our
great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.