Letters From a Birmingham Jail

“While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”” Dr. M.L. King Jr.”

For those of you who don’t know, when Dr. M.L. King Jr. was in Birmingham for the protests there, he was arrested and put in jail.   While he was in jail he received some letters from fellow pastors that he was called to answer.   We’re going to take a look at some of what he wrote – it’s powerful.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is sitting in jail. He’s not in jail for something most people would say is really a crime. He’s in a jail because he was doing things that made the people in the government uncomfortable. What did he do?

He protested with many of his supporters and they were looking for two relatively simple things:

Chairs in a restaurant. What? They were protesting that the local restaurants were not allowing them to eat like the white people were. Huh? Let’s say that there’s a diner, a relative small, hole in the wall kind of diner. There are 8 tables with 4 seats at each table. The math isn’t hard. Capacity is 32. Well, a large majority of restaurants in Birmingham were either posting signs that say “no blacks allowed” or they were watching the number of people that were in the diner and were adjusting the “seating available sign” depending on whether it was white people or people of color who wanted to come in and eat.

So, if I, a middle class, relatively middle aged, white man walked in and wanted to be seated and there were 3 empty tables, it would be, “Right this way and welcome to Joe’s Diner.”

But if my friend, LeMarr, walked in with three of his black friends and wanted to eat dinner there and there were 2 empty tables (I’m sitting at the other one), they would be told that they couldn’t be served. The more polite restaurants might say, “Our last two tables are already reserved.” (Even though they weren’t). Most of them would say, “No blacks allowed” or “we don’t serve colored people.”

Just as you take a bite into your fresh hot juicy burger, your friend and his buddies shuffle off out the door to try to find somewhere to get some food. How does your burger taste now?

Dr. King felt that this was wrong. Many others in Birmingham felt this was wrong and it was something they felt they needed to do something about. This is part of the struggle that led some of the religious leaders in the black churches in Birmingham to urge Dr. King to join them.

So we’ve got chairs in a restaurant, or more accurately, the refusal of white restaurant owners to serve black people food. Issue #1

Issue #2 Employment. Segregation in employment. Once again, there’s two main ways this was accomplished:
1. Job requirements – An employer might put something “up” about the position they were looking to fill and either make the posted requirements too high. “Assistant Sanitation Technician” might be required to have a high school diploma. What is a sanitation technician? It’s someone who operates a broom for 8 to 10 hours a day.
2. “Bold Statement” on the front door of the business. “We will not employ blacks.” I can’t imagine what it would feel like to walk up to a business, believing that you could do the job, you could make the place, in some small way, better and you don’t even make it to the front door and you see the sign that says, “No Blacks Allowed.” Talk about a blow to your self esteem.

Just an aside, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a minor in History. So what? I’d like to think it makes me sort of barely kind of close to the middle of the road. I know (or knew) more history than some people, but way less than is required to be considered an expert in that field.

I’m currently at 609 words and I really want to keep it between 400 and 600 words, so we’re going to wrap this up for today. I really hope, to have Part 2 up as soon as possible.

Three main words of focus next time:
• Your
• Unwise
• Untimely

Thanks for reading, stay tuned.


Trayvon and George and ……

There’s not enough room to list them all on this page.

Trayvon has been dead for 8 years.

George has been dead since May 25 – not even 8 weeks.

Trayvon wasn’t the first.

George already isn’t the most recent.

Sharifa Stevens wrote about Trayvon and Joseph Kony 8 years at Why I Fear “Good” People: Trayvon Martin and Kony 2012

“What nauseates and scares me is the deafening silence from the masses concerning Trayvon Martin, our neighbor. It’s curious to me how easily 100 million people could see the Kony video, buying t-shirts and forwarding videos, and yet remain silent about the neighborhood watchman in their own backyard who shot an unarmed boy for carrying Skittles.”

Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. in his now famous, “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” said,
• “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
• “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
• “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
• “Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Sharifa is a good friend of a friend of ours from my time working for the kids in Haiti. If she has Tara’s seal of approval, that’s good enough for me.

Dr. King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” is so packed full of wisdom and insights into the church and race and our country.

There’s a lot more to be said and a lot more to be done.

Think about it and I’ve got more to say as we attempt to move forward……

In the mean time, can we all try something?

Even in times of social distancing, I’m positive that all of us can realize two things:
1. That we’re all different. We all bring different experiences, stories and more to this thing called life.
2. That it’s possible to disagree with someone without hating that person or insulting them.

If we realize those things, the conversation about this could be a lot more productive and a lot less destructive.


Weep with Me

3 years ago, I wrote about this song by Rend Collective.

3 Years ago……

My Dad was still alive.

I could honestly say, “I feel good.”

I had never experienced the concern that comes when your kids go “driving while black.”

A multitude of black and brown families have an empty seat at their table due to police brutality.

A multitude of black and brown families have a seat at their table that is empty longer than it should be and it’s only because of skin color.  If their family member had been white, he would have done his time and gone home. 

Over 2 million people in the United States have been infected with the corona virus and over 116,000 have died so far.

Weep with me.  God does.

Listen to God talking through them and take comfort in knowing that God is weeping with us in these struggling times.


Weep with Me – by Rend Collective