"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here," declared Martin Luther King, Jr. He had come to that city of racist terror convinced that massive protest could topple Jim Crow. But the insurgency faltered. To revive it, King made a sacrificial act on Good Friday, April 12, 1963: he was arrested.Read more...
"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here," declared Martin Luther King, Jr. He had come to that city of racist terror convinced that massive protest could topple Jim Crow. But the insurgency faltered. To revive it, King made a sacrificial act on Good Friday, April 12, 1963: he was arrested. Alone in his cell, reading a newspaper, he found a statement from eight "moderate" clergymen who branded the protests extremist and "untimely."
King drafted a furious rebuttal that emerged as the "Letter from Birmingham Jail"-a work that would take its place among the masterpieces of American moral argument alongside those of Thoreau and Lincoln. His insistence on the urgency of "Freedom Now" would inspire not just the marchers of Birmingham and Selma, but peaceful insurgents from Tiananmen to Tahrir Squares.
Scholar Jonathan Rieder delves deeper than anyone before into the Letter-illuminating both its timeless message and its crucial position in the history of civil rights. Rieder has interviewed King's surviving colleagues, and located rare audiotapes of King speaking in the mass meetings of 1963. "Gospel of Freedom" gives us a startling perspective on the Letter and the man who wrote it: an angry prophet who chastised American whites, found solace in the faith and resilience of the slaves, and knew that moral appeal without struggle never brings justice.
- ISBN-13: 9781620400586
- ISBN-10: 1620400588
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Publish Date: April 2013
- Page Count: 218
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-02-11
- Reviewer: Staff
In this study of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Barnard College sociologist Rieder (The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr.) places the Civil Rights leader’s important work in its historical and literary context. Rieder devotes a full 40 pages to setting the tumultuous scene in 1963. The meat of the book, however, is Rieder’s detailed analysis of the letter itself. Rieder meticulously identifies both subtle and overt shifts in King’s tone and intent, ranging from diplomacy to anger; by the second half of the letter, King “ mainly finished with explaining himself to his white critics. He is now ready to reprimand them.” Rieder assumes a familiarity with the text as he analyzes the letter and displays a remarkably deep knowledge of King’s larger body of work, with cross-references and connections to other sermons and writings. Perhaps the most powerful and instructive of these comparisons is in relation to the “I Have a Dream” speech, given a few months after the letter was penned. The book closes with a broad analysis of how the letter affected the fight for equality in Birmingham and how it continues to inspire. Agent: Susan Rabiner, the Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. (Apr.)