WASHINGTON — Though it has been nearly 57 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," the National Cathedral took a moment Sunday to reflect on the words that made many white churches in the south reevaluate their stance on ethnicity and race.
As part of the annual Martin Luther King Tribute by the National Cathedral, excerpts from the letter were displayed as the words from his writing were amplified by the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir and the Cathedral Band.
"[King's] letter remains especially poignant today as America confronts a frustrating lack of progress on behalf of our black and brown members and neighbors who are incarcerated,"said the Rev. Leonard L Hamlin, Sr. as he gave the service's introduction and prayer.
The National Cathedral collected an offering that went to three groups working on criminal justice reform: The Advancement Project, The Prison to Justice Initiative and The Kairos Prison Ministry.
When King wrote his letter in 1963, he was viewed by many as a criminal, and treated like so by white people in the south. King's letter was originally in response to a letter written by white clergy in Birmingham who were against the works and efforts to enhance rights for minorities, telling King that he was moving to fast.
"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will," King wrote from his Alabama jail cell. "Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
The event was free to the public and streamed on Facebook and YouTube, so those who could not come in person could view the display and discussion.
In attendance at the celebration and service was Martin Luther King III, who spoke about his father and the difficulties democracy faces in the United States.
Martin Luter King Jr.'s last sermon was at the National Cathedral, only a short period before he was shot at a Memphis hotel in 1968.