Bernice King Reflects on 50th Anniversary of Father’s ‘Letter From a Birmingham Jail’

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If her birth had been delayed much longer, her father may not have been in Birmingham for the Good Friday march, and the letter that still today stirs racial consciousness may not have been written, she said.

Later Tuesday, at a church that was once the scene of a bombing that claimed the lives of four little girls in 1963, King joined five members of the clergy to talk about a response to a Letter From A Birmingham Jail.

When asked what the eight clergy who wrote a letter questioning the protests in 1963, Rev. Doug Carpenter said: “If the clergymen had put on their vestments and marched with the children, there’s  no way  Bull Conner would have put fire hoses on them.”

Carpenter was referring to the racist Birmingham police commissioner would order police dog attacks on children and have fire hoses sprayed on them as they marched for civil rights. Carpenter’s father, Episcopal Bishop Charles Carpenter, was one of the eight clergy to whom Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. responded in his letter.

Dr. Wilson Fallin Jr., a historian and president of the Birmingham Baptist-Easonian Bible College, said it was “utterly impossible” for the eight clergy to join in the protest, because most were part of Southern white Christianity.

“Southern white Christianity has not been an advocate of social change. It has supported the social structure,” Fallin said.

Rabbi Jonathan Miller challenged the racially mixed crowd to apply the letter in addressing issues today.

“I’ve learned to conduct my life like a historical lens is on us,” Miller said. “Look back and say, ‘what have we done? “ in the treatment of gay people, immigrants, and people in poverty, he said. “Fifty years from now, in 2063, can we measure ourselves by the letter and say how have we done?”

(Photo: Courtesy of Denise Stewart)

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