Birmingham, Alabama was the most furiously, racist city in the south. In 1963, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a direct action campaign that included a series of mass meetings, lunch counter sit-ins, marches on City Hall, and boycotts at downtown merchants. The campaign was broadcast nationally after the City Commissioner violently dispersed the crowds with police dogs. More protestors joined the cause and actions expanded to “kneel-ins” at churches, sit-ins at the library, and a march on the county building to register voters.
Hundreds were arrested and the money for cash bonds became depleted. The Birmingham city government obtained a circuit court injunction against any further protest. King’s friend and fellow activist, Ralph Abernathy, knew they couldn’t agree with the injunction. They debated whether or not to seek arrest for publicity, since there was no guarantee that the funds could be raised for their release. King decided to keep the pressure on, and was arrested on April 12, Good Friday. He was put in solitary confinement for 11 days, where he penned the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” on the margins of the Birmingham News. King wrote the letter in reaction to a published statement by 8 white local clergymen that called him an extremist. The letter was first seen nationally on May 19, 1963. Since then it has been printed thousands of times and is considered the most important protest document of the civil rights era.
Background re: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister, and the most recognized leader of the American Civil Rights Movement until his assassination on April 4, 1968. Throughout his adult life he championed nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as means of protest toward Civil Rights abuses, primarily of African American Citizens. His influence using these techniques carried over to poverty, segregated housing, and Vietnam war issues, and resulted in him being arrested multiple times. He was the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, (SCLC) organizing it, unsuccessfully, in a struggle against segregation in 1962 in Albany, GA. He helped organize the nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. He alienated many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam". J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, and reported on them to government officials, and on one occasion mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.