Black Liberation and the Problems of the 21st Century: Where Do We Go From Here?
A Conference to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail
October 4-5, 2013
Church of the Advocate
Conference Organizers: Dr. Anthony Monteiro, Rev. Dr. Renee McKenzie
In April 1963 the Black Freedom Movement faced a moment of truth. It suffered setbacks in several local campaigns. Student sit-ins, local civil rights struggles and freedom rides went forward, but a galvanizing national campaign was missing. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Martin Luther King faced marginalization and the movement being viewed as insignificant. President Kennedy was cool to civil rights and to the movement; he was focused on the 1964 Presidential election and holding on to the support of southern segregationist Democrats. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, leader of the Alabama affiliate of the SCLC, called for Birmingham to become the national focus of the movement. In January 1963 the SCLC decided to take on the white establishment in one of the most segregated, racially repressive and violent cities in the nation—Birmingham, Alabama. In April the Birmingham Campaign began. King, Shuttlesworth, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Wyatt T. Walker, James Bevel and others led one of the most dramatic campaigns in civil rights history. Violating a court order against demonstrations King, Shuttlesworth and Abernathy were arrested. While they were in jail eight white religious leaders published a letter in a local newspaper calling upon King and the SCLC to discontinue their protest and to seek a path of ‘negotiations.’ King’s written response to their letter became known as the “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” King insisted that the Civil Rights Movement must oppose unjust laws and an unjust system, even if it meant going to jail and facing death. The Movement had, King insisted, a right to protest for human rights and that the road to freedom was through protest and civil disobedience. He accused his white and black opponents of not recognizing the centrality of active resistance to injustice. Nothing less than the active resistance of the oppressed would ever free them, he said.
Fifty years later Black people face problems as profound as those faced at the time King wrote “The Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Poverty, unemployment, mass incarceration, police brutality and murders, and the closing of schools define the life world of Black folk. White supremacy is at levels equal to Birmingham in 1963.
To address the problems faced by Black folk in the 21st century we are calling for a conference that looks at the “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” as lens on how we can addressed these issues. The conference seeks to look not only at the problems, but also suggest solutions.
We call upon all people concerned about the problems of poverty, mass incarceration, school closings, racism and war to join us at the Historic Church of the Advocate on October 4th and 5th. Out of this conference we hope to build new levels of unity and to advance all struggles for human dignity and people’s power.