A police dog held by a white police officer tears the trouser leg of a Black man, who looks calmly over his shoulder.
An image from the non-violent Civil Rights protests of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama (USA).

I am coming to feel that people of ill-will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.

– Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From A Birmingham Jail (April 1963)

From a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1963, Dr King wrote one of the most powerful Christian essays of the 20th century. It was a response to an open letter by eight local Alabama clergymen that criticised the non-violent Civil Rights protests in the city. It was the response of a Christian whose faith was not merely a set of beliefs and actions that he shared, but the reality in which he lived and the lens through which he both experienced the world as it was, and saw the world as it would one day be.

In this special episode we consider the background to King's Letter From A Birmingham Jail and then we read it together. As Christians in July 2020, we should not need to be reminded that Black lives matter - and yet, here we are. We need only look back to Dr King for an appropriate Christian response, but it also behoves us to join his lament. It is nearly 60 years since King wrote this essay, and still our societies - let alone our churches - have failed to internalise some of the most basic tenets of racial justice and Christian fellowship.

Transcript for introduction coming soon!

I'm reading from the text of Dr King's typewritten draft, published on the Stanford University website for The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute (links below). The last page of this draft of King's letter contains some corrections and edits, and I've incorporated those into my reading. The clip of Dr King comes from his own later reading of the letter, also available on the Stanford site.

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King Jr., Martin Luther (1964). Why We Can't Wait. Harper & Row.


"Letter from Birmingham Jail", the King Encyclopedia (Stanford University)
See also Letter From A Birmingham Jail (text and audio)

Statement by Alabama Clergymen (aka "White Clergymen Urge", aka "A Call To Unity")

The Word, Anti-Racism Special Issue (June 2020)
A magazine published for young people of secondary school age, this special issue (edited by co-host Becky Lewis) is an excellent anti-racism primer for Christians of all ages.


Matthew 10, Amos 5