LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL (CIVIL RIGHTS.) KING, MARTIN LUTHER JR. "My dear Fellow Clergymen" [Letter from Birmingham Jail]. 13 mimeographed 4to pages, written on rectos only; corrections and deletions, typed over or crossed out by hand. Birmingham, April 16, 1963
Estimate $10,000 - 15,000
rare working draft of martin luther king jr's "letter from birmingham jail," a defense of his methods of peaceful and passive resistance. At the top of the first page are the names of the seven local religious leaders (six clergymen and a rabbi) to whom copies were meant to be sent, in reply to their letter, published in a local paper, which accused King of being an "outsider, stirring up trouble." The seven had thought that the struggle for equality should be fought through the courts. The immediate circumstances of the "Letter From Birmingham Jail are as follows: On April 3rd, 1963, a coordinated campaign of sit-ins and demonstrations began all around Birmingham, Alabama. This nonviolent campaign was coordinated by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. On April 10, Circuit Judge W.A. Jenkins issued a blanket injunction against "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing." King and the other leaders made it clear that they were not going to comply with the Judge's orders. As a result, on April 12, King and Ralph Abernathy were both arrested and roughed up in the process, as was SCLC official Fred Shuttlesworth and other marchers. When he arrived at the Birmingham Jail, King was again harshly treated. Someone was able to sneak in a copy of a local newspaper in which there was a "Call for Unity" statement made by seven clergymen against King. King was clearly upset by the article, but had nothing with him to write on when he was arrested. So he began to write a reply to it on margins of the newspaper itself and finally finished it up on paper from a small pad that was smuggled in. All of these pieces were taken back to King's lawyer's office where his lawyer's secretary Willie Mackey, bit by bit typed the whole thirteen pages out. King made corrections to it and they were incorporated into the final text. King writes in Why We Can't Wait: "Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly black trustee, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me." King began the letter by responding to the criticism that he and his fellow activists were "outsiders" causing trouble in the streets of Birmingham. To this, King referred to his responsibility as the leader of the SCLC, which had numerous affiliated organizations throughout the South. "I was invited by our Birmingham affiliate because injustice is here, in what is probably the most racially divided city in the country, with its brutal police, unjust courts, and many unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches." Referring to his belief that all communities and states were interrelated, King wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. . . . Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds." King also warned that if white people successfully rejected his nonviolent activists as rabble-rousing outside agitators, this could encourage millions of African Americans to "seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies," a reference to both the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, and their separatist philosophies. "This," he said would be a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare." The text to the manuscript version being offered here differs considerably from the final version as eventually published. The differences are too numerous to list here. We believe that the present was a semi-final draft made up after Willie Mackey and Wyatt Walker put all of the pieces together. It would have then followed to make a mimeograph copy to be distributed. But just as King did not want the letter published in May without his final editing, he probably told Wyatt Walker and Willie Mackey to not distribute the Letter and scrap the copies. But, as always happens, copies must have gotten out in the world. We are positing that this copy is just such a one. The numerous differences in text and the type of differences at that, suggest the precedence of this version. A brief publishing history: An editor at the New York Times Magazine, Harvey Shapiro, asked King to write his letter for publication in the magazine, but the Times chose not to publish it. Extensive excerpts from the letter were published, without King's consent, on May 19, 1963, in the New York Post Sunday Magazine. The letter was first published as "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in the June 1963 issue of Liberation, the June 12, 1963, edition of The Christian Century, and in the June 24, 1963, issue of The New Leader. The letter gained more popularity as summer went on, and was reprinted in the July Atlantic Monthly as "The Negro Is Your Brother." King included a version of the full text in his 1964 book Why We Can't Wait. The Letter has been highly anthologized, and was reprinted 50 times in 325 editions of 58 readers published between 1964 and 1996 that were intended for use in college-level composition courses.