On April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned a 7,000-word letter from a jail cell in Birmingham, Ala. The letter came in response to a statement by eight white Alabama pastors on April 12, 1963, titled "A Call for Unity."

King had been arrested April 12 for demonstrating in defiance of an injunction issued against the Birmingham Campaign of marches and sit-ins, which had begun on April 3.


The white clergy members argued that the cause of civil rights was better contested in the courts than the streets of Birmingham.

King's response has become famous in the study of persuasive rhetoric in which, in part, he suggested that the "wait" requested by the white pastors — who argued that 1963 was not the time for King to pursue equal rights — really meant "never."

King also put forth that non-violent civil disobedience was an appropriate response to unjust laws, and that "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

The letter was the origin of the now-famous argument that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," and quotes Chief Justice Earl Warren, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."

His letter also referenced a few other notables, such as Paul of Tarsus, Reinhold Niebuhr, Socrates, Paul Tillich and Thomas Aquinas.

In addition to being a man of letters, King is, of course, he's best known for speaking — the most famous example being his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.

Closer to home, we should note that a setback to the cause of King and many of his era occurred on Nov. 14, 1963, at the lunchroom of Sykesville Mayor Bernard McDougall's drug store, where Jean S. Evans and Bailey Conaway were refused service.

The county commissioners stepped in and addressed the matter, and it was noted in a subsequent Baltimore Sun article that, "Evans and Conaway ate in the mayor's lunchroom on Jan. 9, 1964."

Also in 1963, according to an article by Dr. William David, entitled, "When the Wall Cracked" and published in the McDaniel College magazine, "The Hill," in February 1990, a student by the name of Raphael Mayamona was then-Western Maryland College's first black graduate.

Mayamona was from the Congo and had been attending high school in Massachusetts. David wrote that, "He applied and was accepted and entered in the fall of 1963."

David also reports that "In September 1963, thus, we had two black undergraduate students on the campus. Charles Seabron was well received by most students and was soon elected president of the freshman class.

"However, he was not comfortable with us, and dropped out at the end of his one year," he wrote.

When he is not immersed in studying the letter from Birmingham jail, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.