Written by Phil Cerroni
By Amanda Casanova
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. smuggled scraps of paper from his jail cell in Birmingham, AL. Those scraps would comprise his famous 21-page “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
On Jan. 7, a half century later, six Irving leaders volunteered to recreate King’s imprisonment for a “Conviction for Peace” Get-Out-of-Jail fundraiser. This time, however, instead of slipping pieces of paper to the outside, the “prisoners” made phone calls and posted to Facebook in hopes of drumming up $300 each in bail for a fundraiser to honor King’s work.
The funds raised will be used to buy paperback copies of the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that will be given out at the City’s Martin Luther King Jr. Observance on Jan. 21.
“The letter is still so relevant today,” said Jacqueline Madden, special events coordinator for the City. “All of his writings are so current. There’s a message there that transcends time and everyone can benefit from his words.
“I think everyone connects him to his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. It didn’t stop there.”
During April 1963, nonviolent marches started in segregated Birmingham. Then on April 12, King was arrested for demonstrating without a permit. During his 11 days in jail, King penned his letter.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” King wrote in the letter.
“It’s a message people still need today,” said Francesca Funk, a member of the Irving Arts Center board. “We need to be reminded that the struggle isn’t over. King said that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ and that’s for everyone. It could happen to anyone.”
Just before stepping behind the bars for his hour long lock-up, Tony Grimes, president of the Irving-Carrollton Branch NAACP, said he was glad to be involved in the fundraiser.
“I don’t think we’re there yet, where King wanted,” he said. “Something like this, it’s a good learning tool for people. It’s a really good cause to support education.”
Other “inmates” included Lorraine Taylor of the Irving Heritage District; Ray Cerda of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department; Bob Toler of the Lions Club; Chris Dobson, Library Director; and Doug Fox of the YMCA.
A second fundraiser will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 15 at the Irving City Hall.