A jail is not a very comfortable place. Once confined, one loses a lot of rights that you would ordinarily enjoy if you were free man.
In solitary confinement for long days and nights, one is left with very few options to keep the mind busy, positive and engaged.
Very often, scouring volumes upon volumes of books becomes a very pleasant pastime for thousands of convicts. For a few others, however, they turn to writing, speaking out their hearts and minds through power of the pen from the depth of lonely, cold prison cells.
Only a few of these works of literature have made it to the records of history such as Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, which he wrote on April 16, 1963.
His letter, which rings true to date, was in response to a stinging criticism from eight fellow men of cloth, who called King-led wave of protests in Birmingham city “unwise and untimely”.
King was arrested on April 12, 1963, for breaching Alabama’s law against mass demonstrations.
From his prison cell, King wrote: “I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘wait.’”
Today, Birmingham City Jail stands out as one of the greatest writings in American history currently showing on History Channel, DStv Channel 186.
The History Channel provides a deep dive into why remembering those who paved the way for how we live today is so remarkably important. An excellent channel for students of history especially learners in college, the channel helps you learn about the past and how it informs the happenings today.
From iconic people and historic moments during the slave trade period to the violent resistance that occurred within the Atlantic system, DStv’s History Channel 186 brings to you the exploits of icons James Baldwin, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Rosa Parks among other heroes and heroines in the fight for civil rights.
Here is a pain-filled sentence excerpt from King’s letter from jail, illustrating why waiting, as requested his fellow clergy, was not only unwise but awfully untimely.
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your 6-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a 5-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.