Cover image for Blessed are the peacemakers : Martin Luther King, Jr., eight white religious leaders, and the "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
Blessed are the peacemakers : Martin Luther King, Jr., eight white religious leaders, and the "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
Bass, S. Jonathan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 322 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F334.B69 N415 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
F334.B69 N415 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Bass's study of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" of 1963 argues that eight local clergymen opposed King's methods of organizing a civil rights march, and King's release of the letter, initially addressed to the clergymen but delivered instead to the media, was conceived as a public relations tool to reach a national audience. 15 halftones.

Author Notes

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 into a middle-class black family in Atlanta, Georgia. He received a degree from Morehouse College. While there his early concerns for social justice for African Americans were deepened by reading Henry David Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience." He enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary and there became acquainted with the Social Gospel movement and the works of its chief spokesman, Walter Rauschenbusch. Mohandas Gandhi's practice of nonviolent resistance (ahimsaahimsa) later became a tactic for transforming love into social change.

After seminary, he postponed his ministry vocation by first earning a doctorate at Boston University School of Theology. There he discovered the works of Reinhold Niebuhr and was especially struck by Niebuhr's insistence that the powerless must somehow gain power if they are to achieve what is theirs by right. In the Montgomery bus boycott, it was by economic clout that African Americans broke down the walls separating the races, for without African American riders, the city's transportation system nearly collapsed.

The bus boycott took place in 1954, the year King and his bride, Coretta Scott, went to Montgomery, where he had been called to serve as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Following the boycott, he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to coordinate civil rights organizations. Working through African American churches, activists led demonstrations all over the South and drew attention, through television and newspaper reports, to the fact that nonviolent demonstrations by blacks were being suppressed violently by white police and state troopers. The federal government was finally forced to intervene and pass legislation protecting the right of African Americans to vote and desegregating public accommodations. For his nonviolent activism, King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

While organizing a "poor people's campaign" to persuade Congress to take action against poverty, King accepted an invitation to visit Memphis, Tennessee, where sanitation workers were on strike. There, on April 4, 1968, he was gunned down while standing on the balcony of his hotel.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Bass (Samford Univ.) has written about the eight white, southern, moderate clergymen to whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." King criticized their moderation and urged them to appreciate the moral crisis, while they, to varying degrees, upheld a gradualistic program that emphasized order in the quest for justice, believing progress had been achieved before the outsider, King, committed his followers to illegal mass demonstrations. These clergymen had publicly supported some degree of change and had been denounced as liberals, even communists. Several were long on gradualism and short on justice, but most became more active in the struggle. They thought the "Letter" was a media ploy that ignored what they had done and felt the media unjustly pictured them as reactionaries. They never received a personal, signed copy of the letter, nor did they ever visit with King himself. Their later accomplishments and frustrations are detailed in biographies of each. The author concludes that the incident is proof that the media's good guys versus bad guys analysis was inadequate to explain the complex race relations that these eight men and their congregations faced. General and academic collections. L. H. Grothaus emeritus, Concordia University