Live at the Library

March 8, 2001

Historian S. Jonathan Bass, a Samford University professor deals with the complexities of the '60s racial scene in his new book, Blessed are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Eight white religious leaders and the "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

King's letter may well be the most important written document of the Civil Rights era. Addressed to eight white Birmingham clergy who sought to avoid violence by discouraging King's demonstrations, the letter captured the essence of the civil rights struggle and was an indictment of gradualist approaches to racial justice.

King wrote the letter from a Birmingham jail cell in the spring of 1963, after being arrested on Good Friday for unlawfully demonstrating against the cit's segregationist ordinances. The letter with its image of King penning it in a prison cell-- soon became a part of American folklore. It presaged his dramatic 1963 summer March on Washington.

In a beyond-the-headlines story, Bass tells the story of how clergy from different religious communities responded to the letter and the racial crisis in the South.

S. Jonathan Bass

A native of Fairfield, Alabma, Dr. Bass is an assistant professor of history and political science at Samford University. He holds degrees from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. A Samford faculty member since 1997, Bass teaches recent American history.