'Letter From a Birmingham Jail' at the Ritz
by Laura Nation-Atchison
Oct 04, 2013 | 1086 views |  0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Red Mountain Theatre’s production of “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” features actor Cecil Washington in the role of Martin Luther King Jr. There are two productions of the play Oct. 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. at Talladega’s Ritz Theatre. You may call the theatre at 256-315-0000 for reservations.
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Photo courtesy of Stewart Edmonds
Red Mountain Theatre’s production of “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” features actor Cecil Washington in the role of Martin Luther King Jr. There are two productions of the play Oct. 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. at Talladega’s Ritz Theatre. You may call the theatre at 256-315-0000 for reservations.

Photo courtesy of Stewart Edmonds
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In April 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King spent eight days in the Birmingham Jail.

It happened to be Good Friday, April 12, when King was taken into custody, and this was the time King wrote his now famous letter, which defended nonviolent resistance for the goal of civil rights in the United States.

King’s letter was written in response to a letter that had recently run in a local newspaper, which claimed that the civil rights protests were "unwise and untimely."

But historians agree that King also deliberately wrote his letter for a national audience as well as for people in the Birmingham area.

With the 50th anniversary of King’s Birmingham letter observed in April, Talladega’s Ritz Theatre presents

two performances of “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” from The Red Mountain Theatre Company Thursday and Friday, Oct. 17 and 18 with both performances at 7 p.m.

George Culver, executive director for Talladega’s Ritz Theatre, said capturing the story on stage will be an opportunity for generations that followed King’s mission for civil rights, along with those who lived to witness his leadership for civil rights, to see the story reflected on stage.

“This will be a formal staged reading, directed by a professional director, who will cast the play locally,” Culver said. “It should be a powerful experience and a moving tribute to a transformative event in our state’s history.

“The Red Mountain Theatre Company, whose past productions of “The Color Purple” and the “25th Anniversary Putnam County Spelling Bee” at The Ritz, were exciting hits for us in recent seasons.

“The central character of Dr. Martin Luther King is brilliantly played by Cecil Washington, one of Alabama’s most renowned actors.”

The historic letter reveals King's strength as a rhetorician and demonstrates his broad base of learning, Culver said.

On May 2, 1963 King addressed a young crowd at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Afterward, the group marched into downtown Birmingham, singing "We Shall Overcome," and nearly a thousand youths were arrested.

The next day, more young people arrived to replenish the number of protestors, and another march occurred. By this point, the situation had become overwhelming for Police Chief Bull Conner, whose jails were full. On May 3, Connor had his forces blast the young protestors with fire-hoses, and released attack dogs against them.

These acts of violence, which were broadcast on national television enlightened a national conscience and marked a turning point not only in Birmingham, but also in the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.

Telegrams then flooded the White House conveying outrage, and it became clear that the Kennedy Administration would have to confront civil rights issues more directly.

In a day or two the protests had become so massive and volatile that the city was willing to negotiate. It listened to the demands of the SCLC, and set a schedule for the desegregation of lunch counters and other facilities. It also promised to confront the issue of inequality in hiring practices, to grant amnesty to arrested demonstrators, and to create a bi-racial committee for the reconciliation of differences.

On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy voiced his commitment to federal civil rights legislation. Kennedy’s stance is reflected in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy's assassination. The act mandated federally what had in Birmingham been won locally: a white commitment to desegregation and equal employment opportunities. It also gave the federal government power to enforce desegregation laws in schools by withholding funds from noncompliant districts.