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His hatred for and brutal treatment of civil rights protesters made him infamous. In the spring of 1963, Birmingham minister Fred Shuttlesworth invited King to Birmingham. King would help Shuttlesworth lead a demonstration against segregation and discrimination. Although gaining national fame as a civil rights orator, King had achieved much less success on the ground. He had participated in sit-in demonstrations in Atlanta in 1960 for which he was arrested. His arrest became an issue in the 1960 presidential election, and when he received support from Democratic presidential candidate John F.

But the majority stayed. Violence and threats also surrounded the program. Cars carrying Freedom Summer workers were shot at. A black church where classes were held was burned. Volunteers were arrested for distributing voter information. Mississippi passed a law making it illegal for the volunteers to teach at freedom schools. In early August, the bodies of the three missing men were found, brutally murdered. The president instructed the FBI to find the killers. After a successful manhunt, the state of Mississippi refused to prosecute the accused murderers.

He discussed the difference between just and unjust laws. He spoke of religion and destiny and the horrible impact Jim Crow had, especially on the psychological well-being of black children. He carefully outlined why he and others had to continue their fight. King smuggled his letter page by page to his lawyers. But it did not end up being published until months later and so did not affect the campaign in Birmingham. In the years since, however, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is viewed as one of the great documents of the American civil rights movement, if not of human history.

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