These eight clergymen wrote this open letter in January of 1963, as courts were beginning to indicate that desegregation was coming to Alabama schools and universities. It was published in the Birmingham newspaper. This letter appealed to those “opposed to this change”– largely a euphemism for groups of white segregationists– to not turn to “defiance” or violence in resisting this change, but rather to attempt to resist integration efforts in the court system. This phrase “law and order and common sense” is an important one, and one which they will repeat in a later letter on April 12, 1963, in response to desegregation demonstrations which led to the jailing of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Thus, this letter forms an important part of the context for Martin Luther’s King famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” since this is the precursor to the letter of April 12 to which King was responding in his letter, which can be found here.
In these times of tremendous tensions, and change in cherished patterns of life in our beloved Southland, it is essential that men who occupy places of responsibility and leadership shall speak concerning their honest convictions.
We the undersigned clergymen have been chosen to carry heavy responsibility in our religious groups. We speak in a spirit of humility, and only for ourselves. We do not pretend to know all the answers, for the issues are not simple. Nevertheless, we believe our people expect and deserve leadership from us, and we speak with firm conviction for we do know the ultimate spirit in which all problems of human relations must be solved.
It is clear that a series of court decisions will soon bring about desegregation of certain schools and colleges in Alabama. Many sincere people oppose this change and are deeply troubled by it. As southerners, we understand this. We nevertheless feel that defiance is neither the right answer nor the solution. And we feel that inflammatory and rebellious statements can lead only to violence, discord, confusion, and disgrace for our beloved state.
We therefore affirm, and commend to our people:
- That hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions.
- That there may be disagreement concerning laws and social change without advocating defiance, anarchy, and subversion.
- That laws may be tested in courts or changed by legislatures, but not ignored by whims of individuals.
- That constitutions may be amended or judges impeached by proper action, but ourAmerican way of life depends upon obedience to the decisions of courts of competent jurisdiction in the meantime.
- That no person’s freedom is safe unless every person’s freedom is equally protected.
- That freedom of speech must at all costs be preserved and exercised without fear of recrimination or harassment.
- That every human being is created in the image of God and is entitled to respect as a fellow human being with all basic rights, privileges, and responsibilities which belong to humanity.
We respectfully urge those who strongly oppose desegregation to pursue their convictions in the courts, and in the meantime peacefully to abide by the decisions of those same courts.
We recognize that our problems cannot be solved in our strength or on the basis of human wisdom alone. The situation that confronts us calls for earnest prayer, for clear thought, for understanding love, and or courageous action. Thus we call on all people of goodwill to join us in seeking divine guidance as we make our appeal for law and order and common sense.
C. C. J. Carpenter, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Alabama
Joseph A. Durick, D.D.
Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Mobile, Birmingham
Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman
Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, Alabama
Bishop Paul Hardin
Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference
Bishop Nolan B. Harmon
Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church
George M. Murray, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Alabama
Edward V. Ramage
Moderator, Synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church in the United States
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama