MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my
present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and
ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little
time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no
time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your
criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be
patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the
view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state,
with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across
the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently
we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the
affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action
program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we
lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was
invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the
eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the
boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried
the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to
carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to
the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly
by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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. Never again can
we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the
United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to
say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I
am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis
that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that...