Remembering Birmingham: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter to America--50 Years Later, By Edward Gilbreath alt

Remembering Birmingham

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter to America--50 Years Later

ebook short

by Edward Gilbreath

Remembering Birmingham
  • Length: 0 pages
  • Published: February 04, 2013
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 6663
  • ISBN: 9780830866632

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From Chapter 1, "As Birmingham Goes":

It all happened fifty years ago in Birmingham, a place described by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as "the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States." A city where the libraries were not only segregated, but books containing photographs of black rabbits and white rabbits together in the same space were banned from their shelves. A city where, according to one famous report, "every medium of mutual interest, every reasoned approach, every inch of middle ground has been fragmented by the emotional dynamite of racism." A city where bullets, bombs and burning crosses served as constant deterrents to blacks who aspired to anything greater than their assigned station of disparity. A city where vigilante mobs in white hoods collaborated with the police to reinforce the social status quo. There, in April 1963, King and his movement of nonviolent protesters staged a campaign that would transform America.

The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a wiry and fiery Baptist preacher, had earned a reputation as the city's most fearless and outspoken fighter for human rights. It was Shuttlesworth who beseeched King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference deputies to descend on Birmingham and help the city's black community confront segregation "with our bodies and souls." He told them, "Birmingham is where it's at, gentlemen. I assure you, if you come to Birmingham, we will not only gain prestige but really shake the country." Shuttlesworth believed that "as Birmingham goes, so goes the nation." And Dr. King agreed.

On April 12, 1963, King was arrested for demonstrating on the streets of Birmingham. The next day, while locked up, he spotted this headline on page two of the Birmingham News: "WHITE CLERGYMEN URGE LOCAL NEGROES TO WITHDRAW FROM DEMONSTRATIONS." Below it was a joint op-ed from a group of prominent, socially moderate Birmingham ministers. The group—comprised of six Protestant ministers, a Catholic bishop and a Jewish rabbi—was supportive of civil rights for Negroes but critical of Dr. King's "extreme" protest methods which the clergymen felt would lead to civil unrest and unnecessary violence. In their public statement, they alluded to King as an "outsider" and criticized the movement for "unwise and untimely" demonstrations. "When rights are consistently denied," they wrote, "a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets."

And that prompted a letter of response from Dr. King.

In this short ebook, journalist Ed Gilbreath tells the story behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," a work that still calls us to accountability 50 years after it was first written. Gilbreath writes, "From time to time, prophetic Christian voices rise in timbre to challenge our nation's 'original sin.' Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice and historic efforts as the Moses of America's civil rights movement stand out as perhaps the most significant instance of a modern Christian leader acting in a prophetic role to instigate social change."

Discover for yourself the significance of King's masterful letter—for his day and for today—and watch for Ed Gilbreath's full-length book, Birmingham Revolution, in November 2013.

"The calling of a prophet is a glorious burden. The prophetic voice of Martin Luther King is as needed by the church today as it was half a century ago. Edward Gilbreath allows us to hear it with depth and power."

John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and author of Who Is This Man?

"Today, the historical significance of Dr. Martin Luther King has either been virtually forgotten or has given way to a slew of one-dimensional caricatures. In Birmingham Revolution, Ed Gilbreath not only gives a fresh analysis of an important chapter of the civil rights movement, he also thoughtfully reintroduces Dr. King to a whole new generation. He challenges us to reexamine Dr. King's renowned 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' in order to rediscover the clear biblical concerns and mandates for justice. This book will prove to be a valuable tool in equipping those we disciple with a fuller application of God's Word in the cultural marketplace."

Carl Ellis Jr., assistant professor of practical theology, Redeemer Seminary

"This book offers a unique facet to the multifaceted jewel of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Birmingham revolution. The one who dares to take another look into the life, work and ministry of King by reading this book will experience the transition from a glimpse to a glance to a glaze."

Robert Smith Jr., professor of divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama

"Edward Gilbreath has written a smart, thoughtful and contemporary account of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail.' He analyzes the depth of King's theological convictions concerning racial injustices and the controversies they provoked in the city of Birmingham in 1963, as well as the nation. Gilbreath's book prophetically challenges evangelical Christians to reexamine King's theological convictions in light of racial and social class inequities facing the United States and the world today."

Randal Maurice Jelks, author of Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement

"Edward Gilbreath has provided us with a truly magnificent look at Martin Luther King Jr. and the Birmingham civil-rights campaign of 1963 in this fiftieth anniversary year. Those new to King will be intrigued, informed and inspired. Those very familiar with King and the events in Birmingham will gain fresh and engaging insights. Birmingham Revolution is a must-read for students, activists, pastors, community leaders and all persons who claim the Christian community as their home."

Curtiss Paul DeYoung, professor of reconciliation studies, Bethel University

"We remember Martin Luther King Jr. because he spoke truth to power. We remember Dr. King because he cast a vision for what we could be, rather than what we often are. Now, Edward Gilbreath uses historical insight, theological sensitivity and nitty-gritty honesty to help us remember King for his challenges to the church. If you want your congregation to be and remain on the side of justice, you will get a copy of Birmingham Revolution for your pastor. If you want it to change your life, you?ll get another one for yourself."

Edward J. Blum, coauthor of The Color of Christ

"Ed Gilbreath offers a masterful retelling of key times in the life of King. He gives us a holistic view that helps us to understand the great civil rights leader. Gilbreath does not sidestep controversial issues so that we will engage in an unspiritual worship of King but places the man in a proper context so that we gain qualitative insight into the civil rights movement."

George Yancey, professor of sociology, University of North Texas

"Read the headlines these days, and it can seem like the country is splitting at the seams. The vitriol of our political and cultural debates is enough to make anyone wonder whether the 'better angels of our nature' have gone into permanent hibernation. . . . Reading Edward Gilbreath's Birmingham Revolution has given me a fresh perspective and renewed hope."

Michael O. Emerson, Christianity Today, December 2013

"Edward Gilbreath is one of the few writers who manages to capture the intense drama of King's call to ministry, his (at times, controversial) ascension to leadership, and the burden and blessing of trying to realize the beloved community."

Marcus Simmons, The Covenant Companion, June / July 2014

"Gilbreath introduces readers to King's more radical and less popular writings and contextualizes the Letter from Birmingham Jail and its influence. . . . worth a read."

Publishers Weekly, November 11, 2013

"Of the many who have written on Martin Luther King Jr., few have chosen the focus that Gilbreath has taken. He looks at King's legacy from the perspective of an African American evangelical. . . . Gilbreath documents the changing nature of race relations, and reminds us that the civil rights movement as an entity grew out of a regulated structure of injustice. . . . A great book for all interest in King's life, the history of civil rights, or the church's involvement in matters of equality."

Cicely Douglas, Library Journal, December 2013

"As an evangelical pastor of a multi-ethnic church in New York City, I often find myself at the intersection of lively discussions about race. These conversations almost inevitably lead to a familiar question: What does the church do now? Maybe stated another way, 'How do we work toward the dream of the beloved community?' This is why I find Edward Gilbreath's Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Epic Challenge to the Church to be a timely and necessary read. . . . I recommend reading Birmingham Revolution before engaging the familiar 'I have a dream' each January. Adding dimension to the historic civil rights movement helps us take seriously the pitfalls and promise of the hard work of racial reconciliation today."

José Humphreys, Sojourners, March 2014

"Gilbreath's Birmingham Revolution is both a personal reflection and revelation as well as historical examination. And is right on time in a country where many think we've moved past racism, simply because we have a black president. Gilbreath's gently confrontational book paints a picture of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. . . . As believers it is important to come down, not just on the right side of history, but of the gospel and God's imperative for justice. . . . As Gilbreath chides some for not having grace for King's personal shortcomings or due appreciation of his role both as prophet and cultural and legal change agent, he also, like King himself, calls us to self-examination, courage, and prayerful action."

Andrea Hunter, Worship Leader Magazine, May/June 2014

"Not only will readers come away with an understanding of King and his work, they also will see ongoing cultural debates with new eyes. Highly recommend this well-written, thoroughly researched book."

John Bernstein, CBA Retailers + Resources, December 2013



Introduction: MLK and the Elephant
1: As Birmingham Goes
2: The Jailhouse Epistle
3: "My Dear Fellow Clergymen"
About the Author


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Edward Gilbreath

Edward Gilbreath is an award-winning editor, journalist, and author, who currently serves as the vice president of strategic partnerships at Christianity Today. He has served as the executive director of communications for the Evangelical Covenant Church, an editor of numerous magazines, the founding editor of Urban Ministries Inc.'s, and an executive editor at InterVarsity Press. His books include Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity and Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Epic Challenge to the Church.