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“Letter from Birmingham Jail”

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(1963) A letter that Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed to his fellow clergymen while he was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, after a nonviolent protest against racial segregation (see also sit-ins). King defended the apparent impatience of people in the civil rights movement, maintaining that without forceful actions like his, equal rights for black people would never be gained. King upheld the general use of nonviolent civil disobedience against unjust laws, saying that human rights must take precedence over such laws. He claimed that “one who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly”; such a person, King said, is actually showing respect for law, by insisting that laws be just.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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