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"Letter from Birmingham Jail"

Identifier: MSS-1831

Scope and Contents note

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," on April 16, 1963, after his arrest for violating Alabama’s law against mass public demonstrations. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined with Fred Shuttlesworth’s Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) for the Birmingham Campaign in April 1963 with the hopes of disrupting the system of segregation in the city by putting pressure on Birmingham merchants during the Easter season. The campaign began on April 3, 1963, with lunch counter sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and mass meetings. On April 10, 1963, the city’s Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, obtained an injunction against the protests. Two days later, after much deliberation, King decided to defy the injunction and marched with supporters. He, along with Ralph David Abernathy and fifty other supporters, was arrested and taken to the Birmingham jail, where he was subject to solitary confinement and denied access to his lawyers. While in jail, a friend smuggled King a copy of the Birmingham News, which contained a statement from eight white Alabama clergymen critical of King’s methods, favoring the electoral process to societal change. King began writing his response in the margins of the newspaper and continued on scraps of paper until he received a legal pad from his lawyers. The letter defends his presence in Birmingham and his dedication to the civil rights movement through direct action and nonviolence. This iteration is a copy transcribed and then sent to various clergymen in Birmingham, Alabama, including Rev. Joe C. Higginbotham, and includes the original envelope and transcription control sheet.


  • 1963-04-16


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Biographical / Historical

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Michael King and Alberta Williams. He had two siblings, an older sister named Christine and a younger brother named A. D. (Alfred Daniel). He attended Morehouse College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology in 1948. After graduation, he entered the ministry, attending Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania. He married Coretta Scott in 1953, and had four children: Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice. King is best known as a leader in the Civil Rights movement, and his great ability as an orator. He was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.


0.1 Linear Feet (1 item, 23 pieces)

Language of Materials



Contains Martin Luther King's "Birmingham Jail Treatise" or as it is commonly known, "Letter from Birmingham Jail," originally written by King on scraps of paper. This iteration is a copy transcribed and then sent to various clergymen in Birmingham, Alabama, including Reverend Joe C. Higginbotham, and includes the original envelope and transcription control sheet.


Gift of Mrs. Joe C. (Ann T.) Higginbotham, in memory of the Rev. Joe C. Higginbotham and in honor of the University of Alabama Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA), 2006

Processed by

Processed by Donnelly Lancaster Walton, 2007; updated by Jessica Rayman, 2022.
Guide to "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
Donnelly Walton
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Revision Statements

  • January 2022: Finding aid notes written and edited by Jessica Rayman

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266