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Vol. 8, No. 2: Summer 2002

Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (Review)

by Katherine Mellen Charron

Louisiana State University Press, 2001.

One can hardly blame Martin Luther King Jr. for neglecting to mail his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to the eight white clergymen to whom it was addressed. That year, 1963, was a busy one for the civil rights leader, especially after the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) Birmingham campaign captured the nation’s attention and garnered an unprecedented level of support for the Civil Rights movement. Most can remember that 1963 began in Alabama with Governor George Wallace’s famous inaugural declaration “segregation now . . . segregation tomorrow. . . segregation forever. ” Most can also recall what a tumultuous year 1963 became in Birmingham: two factions vying for control of City Hall amidst increased civil rights pressure in the spring, Wallace’s calling in the National Guard to prevent the integration of the city’s public schools, and four African American girls killed by the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in the fall. It seems odd, given that the story of Birmingham—and King’s prison epistle in particular—is so central to our understanding of the Civil Rights movement that we forget to wonder what became of these white clergymen and their ministries in its wake. S. Jonathan Bass insists that “history should remember them—not as misguided opponents of Martin Luther King, but as individuals with diverse ideas on the volatile segregation issue who struggled with social change the way all people do.”

This article appears as an abstract above, the complete article can be accessed in Project Muse
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