Original copy of historic MLK letter preserved in Alabama’s Special Collections Library

Martin Luther King Jr Letter

By WVUA 23 News Reporter Elise Anzaldua

Among the all the bits of history preserved inside the University of Alabama’s Special Collections Library is a 21-page letter that looks mundane, but holds incredible significance. It’s one of few original transcribed copies of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic Letter From Birmingham Jail.

King wrote the letter in 1963, while he was stuck inside the Birmingham City Jail for nine days after arriving in the city from Atlanta hoping to assist in organizing the area’s push for civil rights.

As detailed in an article written by Caroline Gazzara-McKenzie for the UA News Center, King’s original letter was written within the margins of daily newspapers, smuggled out of the jail and transcribed and sent to the white religious leaders who’d only days earlier published an open letter calling the civil rights movement to which King belonged “unwise and untimely”.

 UA Special Collections Associate Dean Lorraine Madway said King’s letter was instrumental in the civil rights era.

“This letter articulates the purposes of the campaign for ending segregation in 1963,” Madway said. “Birmingham was considered, according to King, probably the most segregated city in America.”

King’s letter urged those white religious leaders to reconsider their position and instead encourage desegregation.

In 2006, the wife of original letter recipient Rev. Joe Higginbotham donated the letter to the university. Since then, Special Collections digitized the letter so anyone can take a look at this prized piece of history. You can check that out right here.

 The letter’s contents are still instrumental, even today, Madway said.

“Looking at events that are almost 60 years ago, how do these events speak to us?” she said. “How do we make sense of them? How do we engage with them to move forward as individuals and as a society to bring King’s vision to reality?”


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