Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Special Collection Treasures

Published on April 15, 2013 by Special Collection
photo MLK, Jr. in 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.

letter from the Birmingham jail
Typed copy of the famous letter from The Papers of Dr. George Bagely.

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