April 10, 2019
WASHINGTON – Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) yesterday evening led a bipartisan commemorative reading of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail in the United States Senate chamber. Senator Jones was joined in the reading by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and Charles Steele, Jr., President/CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also attended the reading.
“It’s our civic duty -- I believe our moral obligation -- to remember Dr. King’s words and his deeds. To tell his story. To appreciate that 1963 was not all that long ago. To reflect on how many things have changed and how many have not,” Senator Jones said in his opening remarks. “I urge the rest of our colleagues and anyone in the gallery and anyone watching on television at home that we might still learn today from this powerful message about justice and freedom from oppression – and the indifference of people who stand idly by when their fellow Americans are persecuted.”
Senator Jones continued in his closing remarks, “We cannot stand idly by when we see a reemergence of hateful rhetoric in our public discourse. We’ve seen it before. We’ve seen it before in Birmingham and elsewhere. We’ve seen before the devastating violence that can follow and it lives with us today. It lives with us today in tragedies like Charleston and Charlottesville and Pittsburgh and now in New Zealand. We need to strive not just for civility, but to make sure we live in a country that does not hold each other in contempt.”
After watching the reading, Martin Luther King III said, “I was so glad to be able to hear my father’s words read on the Senate floor yesterday afternoon. The ideas in Letter from Birmingham Jail are still so important — perhaps even more so today.”
In April 1963, Dr. King penned the letter from his cell at the Birmingham Jail, where he and other protestors were detained for leading a series of nonviolent protests and boycotts in Birmingham to put pressure on the business community to end discriminatory hiring practices. He wrote passionately in response to an open letter led by eight white clergymen from Alabama urging him to abandon his efforts in Birmingham, calling his protests “unwise and untimely” and criticizing him for being an outsider coming in to agitate in Birmingham. Dr. King rejected the notion that African-Americans should remain patient in the struggle to shed the bonds of oppression and daily indignities inflicted by Jim Crow laws in the South. In his letter he famously responded to their criticisms writing, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
You can view Senator Jones’ remarks and the full reading of the letter here.