David Levering Lewis on MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

Fifty years ago today Martin Luther King Jr. completed his open letter from Birmingham Jail.

David Levering Lewis, writes in his book King: A Biography (recently released in a new third edition):

“Every nation has its stockpile of rhetorical memorabilia, addresses, and documents which enshrine by their passionate sincerity and eloquence a moment of curtain call in the drama of its people’s maturity.  Washington’s farewell address, the Webster-Hayne debates, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the inauguration speeches of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy—these are milestones in the republic’s growth.  To this stockpile must be added Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail…'”

The manifesto of civil disobedience that King penned from his jail cell (after an arrest during a non-violent public protest of segregationist laws) is being celebrated worldwide on this anniversary.

King’s letter includes his now-famous statement “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


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