By Rikki Fiedler, an introductory Philosophy student. 

"Letter from Birmingham Jail" is a very influential and ground-breaking letter in response to the clergymen who composed "A Call to Unity"...

This piece was a very condescending idea to Martin Luther King, Jr. As he sat in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, for multiple days, he had the time to boil over this published work and create his strongly worded response. This response was prevailing in such a way that it has shaped history and impacted segregation in the United States in the most positive of ways.

In King's response, he writes "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." He says this in response to the clergymen calling him an outsider in Birmingham. King addresses that he could not step back and watch the injustices being done in Birmingham and not do anything about it. In relation to social injustices, his statement implies that no one should be able to sit back and witness such travesties without taking action. King believes that we are all brothers and sisters and we should stand up for one another when injustices are being performed. He also is implying that what one group of people, in this case the white community in Birmingham, does will negatively affect another group of people, the segregated African Americans in Birmingham.

Also in his response, King states that there are two types of laws, "just" and "unjust" laws. He defines a just law as one in which a person should be held legally and morally responsible to obey, and he advocates following these laws. He continues by saying just laws are "a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God." Furthermore, King describes an unjust law as being just the opposite, one which a person should not follow. He believes what St. Augustine believed, that "an unjust law is no law at all." Segregation is seen as an unjust law because it is hypocritical. The majority power compels the minority power to obey these laws, but the majority power does not do the same. Unjust laws are biased, and therefore, should not be followed.

Inspiring Students

  • Olivio Clay

    Image of Olivio Clay. Dr. Olivio Clay is currently Assistant Professor of Psychology at UAB. Dr. Clay has earned three degrees from UAB: a B.S., an M.A., and a Ph.D. in Psychology. Dr. Clay’s research interests are in racial and ethnic disparities, caregiving, social support, and cognition and mobility in older adults. He annually participates in the Birmingham Sickle Cell Walk-a-thon and his interest in the sickle-cell disease led to collaboration with Dr. Joseph Telfair, previously of the UAB School of Public Health, where they examined the properties of an instrument used to assess self-efficacy in adolescents with the disease.

  • Ashley Jones

    Picture of Ashley Jones. Ashley M. Jones is a recent alumna of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She graduated summa cum laude with University and Departmental Honors with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing and a minor in Spanish. She is currently a first year poetry student in the Creative Writing MFA program at Florida International University. She has been published in Aura Literary Arts Review and Sanctuary Literary Magazine. Ashley will serve as Features Editor of Gulf Stream literary magazine in Fall 2013.

    How would you describe your experience at UAB?

    "My experience at UAB was pretty great; I did a lot and I learned a lot. UAB was so nurturing to me, and I'm sure that my experience isn't unique. During my four years at the University, I was able to be a member of the University Honors Program and learn along with students of various races, religions, and schools of thought. I was able to be an active member in the Multicultural Scholars Program and watch my fellow minority students succeed and encourage each other. I was able to work as an editor at three literary magazines, and I was able to do research – yes, English research – as a member of the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program.

    "My research was invaluable – I worked under Dr. Jacqueline Wood and I assisted her as she began writing a biography of writer/scholar/activist Dr. Sonia Sanchez. I collected over 1,000 articles of primary research, and although that experience taught me a lot about the process of writing a book of this sort and about the process of working as a literary scholar, I learned more than I could have expected from Dr. Wood on a personal level, who encouraged and prepared me for the world ahead that I would face as a black woman in the literary field. Her guidance meant a lot to me, and, even now that I'm in graduate school, I take her advice to heart and I'm both cautious and aggressive in my pursuit of a career in academia and administration. Seeing her achieve her career goals and work toward exposing the world to the literary merit of Sonia Sanchez and others excites me as I begin to make my mark on the literary world."

    How has the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, particularly the Birmingham campaign, impacted you?

    "As a Birminghamian, I, of course, have been aware of the Civil Rights Movement and the Birmingham campaign for a while. However, I've only recently started to fully understand what it means to march, protest, and even die for a cause you care about. Now, when I visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, I find myself getting a little emotional. I can't imagine facing such a fight, and I am, admittedly, a little lax when it comes to actively fighting social injustices. I'm amazed at the sacrifice of those who fought this battle, and I'm incredibly grateful for their work.

    "But, as I get older, I'm inspired by the Movement. I understand the power of the voice of the people. If there's one thing I learned at UAB, it's that its students make their voices heard no matter what. And, drawing from these two experiences – UAB and the Civil Rights Movement – I hope I can cultivate the strength necessary to fight this age's battles and tell my children to do the same."