Samford University Library Samford University Library Special Collection, Samford University Library

Treasure Chest

The Treasure Chest is updated several times a year to feature different materials housed in the Special Collection department.

Previous Treasures
Martin Luther King Jr.

Letter from the Birmingham Jail

April 16, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”

A copy of this letter was given to the Special Collection department at Samford University as a part of the Papers of Dr. George Bagley. It is not known how Dr. Bagley got the letter. However, at the time of the Birmingham Campaign in 1963, Dr. Bagley was the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. It is likely he received a copy in his role with the state convention.

Martin Luther King Jr. began writing the letter on the edges of a newspaper while in the Birmingham jail. The notes were smuggled out to Wyatt Tee Walker, Executive Director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and his secretary, Willie Pearl Mackey. It was Mackey that took the scraps of notes and typed the first drafts of the letter. The typed copy concludes with the initials of MLK:WM noting the letter’s author and the woman who typed it.

The letter was first released to the media in May 1963. It was sent out in the same manner as other SCLC press releases. Although portions of the letter were published that spring, it’s first official publication wasn’t until June of that year in the Christian Century.

The image below is linked to a PDF version of the typed copy of the famous letter from The Papers of Dr. George Bagely.

Letter From the Birmingham Jail

Resources

Bass, S. Jonathan, and Martin Luther King. Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the "Letter from Birmingham Jail". Baton Rouge, La: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.

C-Span, LCV Cities Tour - Interview with Jonathan Bass on Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

Eskew, Glenn T. But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Center

The Papers of Dr. George Bagley, Special Collection, Samford University Library.