Bread Participates in “Response to a Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Fifty years ago, in April of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was sitting in jail in Birmingham, Ala., after being arrested for leading a demonstration without a permit.
While in jail, eight religious leaders in Alabama penned an open letter to Dr. King, questioning his decision to come to Birmingham to involve himself in what they deemed to be local issues regarding race relations and civil rights. Dr. King read their letter, and penned a gracious, but pointed, response.
The letter he wrote would go on to be published widely, eventually as “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a seminal piece of writing on civil rights, grounded in theology and non-violent resistance.
Although Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” received praise and accolades the world over, it never received a formal pastoral response.
That changed on Sunday, April 14, 2013, when Christian Churches in the USA commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Dr. King’s work with “A Response to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a formal written response to Dr. King and a corresponding two-day event.
Bread for the World’s Rev. Gary Cook, director of Church Relations, and Bishop Don diXon Williams, associate of African-American church relationships, were involved in the planning process and participated in the April event.
“CCT spent two years planning this,” says Williams. “No one had ever responded to Dr. King’s letter until the members of CCT in the USA presented their letter to Dr. Bernice King, the youngest child of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mrs. Coretta Scott King.”
Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. is a fellowship of 36 national communions, including African-American, Catholic, Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Protestant, and Orthodox; and seven national organizations, including Bread for the World, Evangelicals for Social Action, and World Vision. The formal response expresses gratitude for the sacrifices made by civil rights activists, reexamines the themes in Dr. King’s letter through a 21st century lens, and acknowledges the challenges facing our churches, and our nation as a whole, in realizing Dr. King’s Dream and clearing “the deep fog of misunderstanding.”
Leaders from the faith families represented by CCT signed this letter and also gave confessionals acknowledging the sin of racism. Rep. John Lewis (Ga.); Jim Wallace, president of Sojourners; Dr. Dorothy Cotton, former education director the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and Dr. Virgil Wood, former economic advisor to Dr. King, were among the speakers at the event, which ended with remarks and prayer led by Bernice King.
“Over the past 24 plus years in my career at Bread for the World, I have had many amazing opportunities to experience some very historic and meaningful events, says Williams. “This was one I will never forget,” says Williams.