Martin Luther King Jr. - American History
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King on a march
Martin Luther King Jr. leading a protest march

One of Martin Luther King's most famous pieces of writing was his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. In 1963, Dr. King was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama for participating in a protest march. From the jail, he sent a letter to other Christian ministers - white ministers. In easier words, this is what the letter said:

Dear Christian ministers,
You say that you support rights for black people, but you think the marches I am organizing are stupid and that this is not the right time for them. Also, you say I am an outsider, not even from Birmingham, so I should mind my own business.

But my job is to help black people get their rights, and so when black people in Birmingham invited me to come here, I came; that is my job. Also, like St. Paul, I have to fight injustice everywhere, and there is injustice in Birmingham, so I came here. Also, we are all Americans, and we are not outsiders in any American town.

You say that our protest march causes trouble, but you don't care that the way white people treat black people causes a lot more trouble. White people bomb black people's houses and churches, and white judges won't put white bombers in jail for it. White people put up signs in their stores saying that black people can't come in.

You say we should wait; now is not the right time for protests. But white people will never give up power to black people unless we push them. Waiting won't help. We have waited hundreds of years already, and we're tired of telling our children they can't go to the amusement park or the hotel because they are black.

You say it is wrong to break the law by protesting. I say, like St. Augustine, that it is right to obey fair laws and to break the law when the law is unfair. I say, like Thomas Aquinas, that a law is unfair that goes against God and nature. I have been arrested for parading without a permit, but that law is unfair when it denies our right to peaceful assembly and protest. Like Socrates, like the early Christians, we break the law and submit to its penalties, to show that the law is wrong.

You say that you support rights for black people, but our protests cause violence. We are not violent; we are peaceful. It is the reaction of the police that is violent, but we do not blame the home-owner for the actions of the burglar. The violence is not our fault. You say we are extremists, but Jesus was an extremist for love, and Thomas Jefferson was an extremist for equality, and I am proud to be like them. I am proud to stand with the black people who have worked so hard, and dared so much, to win their rights. You should stand with us too.

More about the Civil Rights Movement

African-Americans after slavery
African-American Slavery
American History
Quatr.us home


Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Check out our new ebook: Short and Simple: Ancient Greek Myths! - just out! Twenty-five easy to read, illustrated stories, from Pandora to Medea, Icarus, and the Trojan Horse (you can read these online as samples). Get it this week for just $14.99, five dollars off the regular price of $19.99.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 19 September, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT