Associated Press
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ State and city leaders joined together Tuesday to commemorate the spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” at the height of the civil rights movement 50 years ago.
Gov. Robert Bentley, Birmingham Mayor William Bell and King’s youngest daughter, Bernice King, unveiled a historical marker at the site where King was held in the old city jail in 1963.
The ceremony was held on the 50th anniversary of King writing the letter while jailed for his role in civil rights protests in the city, which was segregated at the time.
Bernice King, who was born two weeks before her father’s arrest, noted that the letter predicted the South would one day recognize its “real heroes.”
“Well, today is one of those times where not only the South but the city of Birmingham that tried to run daddy out of town is recognizing one of its heroes,” she said. “How times have really changed.”
King wrote the 7,000-word letter on pieces of newspaper and paper scraps after some white Alabama clergy members published an open letter suggesting he find ways other than demonstrations to seek racial equality.
In his letter, King lamented the reluctance of white Southern moderates to get involved.
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection,” King wrote in a letter dated April 16, 1963.
While the jail where King was held is long gone, the metal bars from King’s cell are now on display at the city’s civil rights institute.
Bell, the mayor, said King wrote the letter to give a “literary voice” to the civil rights movement.
“Many people thought that he should just stay away, but in his letter he touched on so many notes as to why it was important to confront injustice at this time and on this date,” Bell said.
King’s arrest focused national attention on Birmingham and he was released from jail. Demonstrations continued, and weeks later city leaders turned fire hoses and police dogs on young people marching down city streets for equal rights.
After the unveiling, Bentley said he was struck by the way King talked both to civil authorities and the church in the letter.
“The letter was the product of a very difficult time in our history,” said Bentley, a Republican. “Some people might want to forget our history. Some people might want to just ignore it. But I think it’s important that we remember what happened and we remember the price that was paid by leaders like Dr. King.”