"THE MOST IMPORTANT WRITTEN DOCUMENT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA"
KING, Martin Luther, Jr. Letter from Birmingham City Jail. (Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1963). Slim octavo, staple-bound as issued, original printed cream self-wrappers; pp. (1), 2-15 (1). $8800.
First commercial edition, exceedingly scarce first printing, published barely three months after King wrote this eloquent and defining Letter from Birmingham City Jail, declaring: "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here… We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom." An elemental American work in especially fine condition.
"In April 1963 King was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama, after he defied a state court's injunction and led a march of Black protesters without a permit, urging an Easter boycott of white-owned stores. A statement published in Birmingham News, written by eight moderate white clergymen, criticized the march and other demonstrations… this prompted King to write a lengthy response, begun in the margins of the newspaper. He smuggled it out with the help of his lawyer, and the nearly 7,000 words were transcribed" (Atlantic magazine). "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here," he wrote. "We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here… if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail… Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever." "Letter from Birmingham Jail is the most important written document of the civil rights era… a classic work of protest literature" (Encyclopedia of Alabama). First printing with "American Friends Service Committee" on rear wrapper, containing no stated edition or printing. With Introduction by Colin Bell, Executive Secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, dated in print "May 1963," less than a month after King wrote his letter in a jail cell. This printing missed by Pyatt, who cites only magazine appearances within the year of publication. Blockson 3226.
A pristine copy in fine condition.