Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Part One: Introduction to Birmingham
  1. Introduce the unit with a quick write or discussion using the following questions: How do you change an unjust law? How do you define justice and injustice?
  2. Ask students to identify historical examples or current examples of unjust laws in the U.S. Discuss the process by which these laws have been changed or could be changed. Example: Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education or the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
  3. Provide students with Birmingham in the 1960’s and Birmingham’s Racial Segregation Ordinances. After the students have read handouts, lead a discussion on the injustice which existed in Birmingham in 1963. You may also wish to have students list any violations of democratic principles as stated in the Bill of Rights and/or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  4. Assign roles for upcoming role play. You will have groups of four and they will take on the roles of Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyatt T. Walker, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy. Have students do preliminary research on their role.


  Handouts:     Resources:  
  Assignment Options:        
  • Journal entry
  • Review King Interactive Timeline for the 1960s
  • Research assigned roles in King Encyclopedia
  • Read Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience”
  • Research a current U.S. law which the students believe is unjust

How do we, as a society, define an unjust law and which strategies are most successful in changing that law? If we are able to abolish legal injustice will it also result in abolishing social injustice?

What was the social, political and economic situation in Birmingham, AL before the spring of 1963?

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