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Dr. Martin Luther King Weekend

January 18, 2020 – January 20, 2020

Dr. Martin Luther King Weekend

Readings of the letter and activities: free.
Tours of Eastern State: standard admission.

Join Eastern State Penitentiary as we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Engage in special readings from the landmark text and respond to its relevance today.

Why did the civil rights leaders of the 1960s choose jail time to demonstrate their plight? How did Dr. King’s letter, written in the margins of a newspaper and smuggled out of Birmingham’s city jail, create a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement? What issues are civil rights leaders today working to change?

Readings and Discussions on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday:

Professional actors, youth, and community leaders read excerpts from Dr. King’s letter three times a day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. After each reading, visitors are invited to respond to the letter’s relevance today during an informal discussion moderated by a civil rights scholar. The readings and discussions are free and open to the public. No reservations required. Seating is first come, first served. We recommend arriving at the reading location 30 minutes in advance of the scheduled start time.

Are you an Eastern State Member? Members who arrive at least 15 minutes in advance get priority seating at all readings! We recommend members arrive 30 minutes prior to the start of the reading. At 15 minutes prior to the start of each reading, any unused member seats will be released to the public. Plus, consider joining us on Saturday, January 18 for Member Saturday. Not a member? Join today!

In addition, on Monday, January 20, join us for – 

Family Activities:
In partnership with the African American Museum in Philadelphia and Art Sanctuary, we invite children, ages 7-12, and their families to create art in response to themes found in the letter and read stories about Dr. King’s life and legacy. Family activities will take place on Monday, January 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., free and open to the public. No reservations required.

The African American Museum and Art Sanctuary use arts integration to help young people develop tools to digest and address social issues that they find relevant. Both are institutions dedicated to the richness and vibrancy of African American heritage and culture.

Musical Performances:
Local musician Justin Griggs will perform two brief sets of civil rights era music at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Monday, January 20. Justin began playing the piano at the age of 2. His love for classical, gospel, R&B, jazz, and rock encouraged him to play other instruments. He currently plays 19 different instruments and is a student at Philadelphia’s Creative and Performing Arts High School.

Community Electronics Recycling:
PAR-Recycle Works will be on site to accept old electronics for recycling from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Monday, January 20. The following items will be accepted: laptops, desktops, tablets, printers, scanners, flat-screen computer monitors, fax machines, cell phones, keyboards, iPods, MP3 players, Fitbits, VCRs, DVD players, cords, game systems, and remotes. All computer drives are wiped clean. Drop off is free except for CRT monitors and TVs, flat screen TVs, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, air purifiers, and microwaves. Prices for recycling these items vary. The electronics recycling station will be located on Fairmount Avenue so that all community members, including those not interested in visiting the penitentiary, can easily recycle items.

PAR-Recycle Works is a social enterprise providing transitional employment for returning citizens seeking to re-enter society as productive citizens. The work of recycling electronics provides a dual benefit of addressing an environmental problem while serving as a vehicle for individuals to build job skills, reconnect with family, and contribute to society.

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.

2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner