January 18, 2021, 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
Dr. Martin Luther King Day (VIRTUAL)
Join Eastern State Penitentiary online as we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Engage in special virtual readings from the landmark text – led by students, educators, activists, and community members – and respond to its relevance today. Between each session, special guests will provide space for reflection and connection as they share music, poetry, and art.
- 11:00 am – 11:30 am ET – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
- 11:30 am – 12:00 pm ET – “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.”
- 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm ET – “Why direct action?”
- 12:30 pm – 1:00 pm ET – “The white moderate…”
- 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm ET – “My dear fellow Clergymen…”
- 1:30 pm – 2:00 pm ET – “The radiant stars of love…”
The event is comprised of six 30-minute, back-to-back sessions, so feel free to participate in just one session or tune in for all six.
About “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama on April 12, 1963 for demonstrating without a permit. During his 11 days in jail there, he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to a letter published by Alabama clergymen that criticized King’s use of jail time to demonstrate civil injustice.
In the letter, Dr. King explains why he chose to use prisons as a tool in his civil rights movement. He writes, “I submit that an individual who breaks the law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law.”
The writing of the letter itself involved rule breaking. Prisoners were not allowed instruments to write during this time, so Dr. King’s lawyer snuck in a pencil. The letter was written in the margins of a newspaper and smuggled back out by the same lawyer. The letter became a manifesto for civil disobedience, stating, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The letter led to a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement when, about a month after it was published, Birmingham officials agreed to desegregate schools, restaurants, and stores.