In King’s words
Those who read Martin Luther King’s seminal ”Letter From The Birmingham Jail” on Tuesday at the Mahoning County Courthouse said the words he wrote 50 years ago are still needed today.
King wrote the letter after he was asked to come to Birmingham and help in peaceful efforts to integrate the city but instead was jailed after officials got an injunction against his protests, said Penny Wells, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s event. Wells heads up the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past program, where students visit historic sites in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
”This letter, you can take out the date and it applies to us,” Wells said. ”If you see an injustice, you need to do something about it.”
Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the day King began writing the letter, which was smuggled out in excerpts and addressed to clergy members of different faiths who had urged him not to come to Birmingham because the time was not yet right for his presence.
Shameka Walker, a Youngstown Early College student who was one of 23 people to read a portion of the letter and who also takes part in Sojourn To The Past, said she thinks the letter is important because King’s quest for justice and nonviolent protests is timeless.
”He wrote about tolerance and justice, and those thoughts need to come out, and how justice is for us all,” Walker said.
John Allen, another reader who works for the Youngstown City Schools, said one of the things he takes from the letter is King’s refusal to stand down when told that it was not yet time for protest.
”He (King) was saying that’s what we’ve been told for too long,” Allen said.
Karen O’Malia of First Unitarian Universialist Church of Youngstown, another reader, said she was impressed by how King preached the goal of all races and cultures banding together in the letter.
”One of the goals in society is to increase diversity and respect of cultures in this area,” O’Malia said.
Norma Coe Anderson of the Youngstown Peace Council, who also read part of the letter, said she remembers vaguely when the letter first came out and said it was important for King to get his message out.
”When you’re persecuted, you want to get the word out,” Anderson said.