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Letter from Birmingham City Jail

Letter from Birmingham City Jail cover from the original 1963 AFSC edition
Cover of the original 1963 AFSC edition. Read the full text.

In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for leading a nonviolent demonstration against segregation. In a public statement, he was criticized by white religious leaders who said civil rights leaders were demanding change too quickly.

In response, Dr. King wrote "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," which was published by AFSC. His letter emphasized why oppressed people cannot let oppressors set the timeline for their own liberation, stating:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace 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.’"

The letter became so popular that AFSC printed and distributed several hundred thousand copies in advance of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963.

Read the full text of "Letter from Birmingham Jail." 

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