January 17, 2022, 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Dr. Martin Luther King Day
Join us in person or online for a free, hybrid program commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Students, educators, public officials, artists, and activists will read the entirety of Dr. King’s landmark text and reflect on its relevance today. The letter will be read in three acts with a short intermission between each section. During the event, special guests, including our returning host STARFIRE, will provide space for reflection and connection as well as music and art inspired by Dr. King's legacy. People attending in person are also invited to write to someone currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania at a designated letter-writing station.
In-person attendees are encouraged to dress for the weather. The event space will be heated with temporary space heaters, but climate conditions inside the historic penitentiary are not always ideal. In accordance with guidelines issued by the City of Philadelphia, all staff and visitors (ages 2+) are required to wear a mask in indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status. Seating is limited and available on a first come, first served basis.
The live stream on Facebook and Zoom will include open captioning.
About “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama on April 12, 1963 for demonstrating without a permit. During his 11 days in jail there, he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to a letter published by Alabama clergymen that criticized King’s use of jail time to demonstrate civil injustice.
In the letter, Dr. King explains why he chose to use prisons as a tool in his civil rights movement. He writes, “I submit that an individual who breaks the law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law.”
The writing of the letter itself involved rule breaking. Prisoners were not allowed instruments to write during this time, so Dr. King’s lawyer snuck in a pencil. The letter was written in the margins of a newspaper and smuggled back out by the same lawyer. The letter became a manifesto for civil disobedience, stating, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The letter led to a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement when, about a month after it was published, Birmingham officials agreed to desegregate schools, restaurants, and stores.