Tuesday, May 28, 2013

See and Hear the Worldwide Reading of the Letter from Birmingham Jail

April 16, 2013 was windy at Palmer Station in Antarctica, a little too blustery for an outdoor reading. So members of the station’s research staff gathered inside, sitting near a big stove, in front of a window that opened onto the white landscape at the bottom of the world and read aloud Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

The reading in Antarctica, like the ones held on every continent that day, came about because of a simple idea: to recognize the 50th anniversary of the day Dr. King began his letter by inviting people around the world to gather and read the letter aloud. When the staff of the Birmingham Public Library sent out the initial invitation, they hoped that a few people in a few places would respond (the conversation included the phrase “maybe we can get five or six”). By April 16, people had responded from more than 250 locations in 33 states of the United States, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. People responded from the Netherlands, South Africa, Ireland, Ghana, Thailand, Germany, Brazil, China, Cameroon, Australia, Taiwan, Israel, Cyprus, Italy, England, Northern Ireland and from a sailboat off the coast of French Saint-Martin in the Caribbean. People responded from schools, libraries, colleges and universities, churches and synagogues, book stores and coffee shops, from city halls, state houses and the floor of the United States Congress. The response is a testament to the universal power of Martin Luther King’s ideals and the eloquence of his Letter.

We asked people who participated in the readings to share their experiences with us and share images of the day. Many did.

Rosalind K. Goddard of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at Los Angeles City College wrote: “The day was a blustery, sun drenched day that seemed befitting of the occasion. The skies were clear and that clarity seemed to add its own timbre, if you will, to each of the voices. We were so pleased to be able to participate in this amazing commemoration.”

Ned French, who organized a reading in a park in Berlin, Gemany, wrote, “We had a small but attentive gathering at Hochmeisterplatz in Berlin. I had not read or even skimmed the letter in advance, and I have to confess, I was overcome at one point... but I pulled myself back together and really got a lot out of the experience.”

In Taiwan, elementary school students studied the Letter and then wrote their impressions in messages back to Dr. King. Jean wrote, “You have a wonderful dream and tough mind.” Bob was hopeful, writing, “You are so great. Your dream is wonderful. It will come true one day.” Yoyo was direct and paid Dr. King the highest compliment that a person of her age can bestow: “You are so cool.”

To see images and video from the day, visit our Pinterest page at http://pinterest.com/bplonline/letter-from-birmingham-jail-a-worldwide-celebratio/.

Submitted by Jim Baggett
Archives Department
Central Library

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