May 19, 1963
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the most important written document of the civil rights era, appeared in the national press. Arrested on April 12 for violating a court injunction, King wrote the letter in response to a statement by eight white ministers who questioned his use of direct nonviolent resistance as a means of pursuing social justice. In the 21-page letter, King justified his use of civil disobedience and direct action in Birmingham and admonished white moderates for not risking their own reputation to better support the movement. The press published the letter widely and it now appears in hundreds of anthologies throughout the world.
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