By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Eastern State Penitentiary is celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend with a free program that includes dramatic readings of King’s famous letter from Birmingham Jail.
“It’s easy to forget that the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s was a radical movement,” says David Farber, who is a professor at Temple University. He is serving as the historian for Eastern State Penitentiary’s program titled “Readings of Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Dr. King wrote the his famous letter while he sat behind bars in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama in April of 1963. Farber says King had been arrested for allegedly protesting without a permit. He wrote the letter writing to respond to Alabama clergymen who criticized the movement.
“It was a letter trying to explain the civil rights movement to so many whites who only vaguely sympathized with the civil rights movement,” says Farber. “He went through a litany where explained why now, why now. And he explained the horrors of racism where they were so blatant in the 1960s and the decades before then.”
The dramatics readings will be held in Eastern State’s synagogue twice a day at 11:30 am and 2:30 am Saturday through Monday. Farber says the penitentiary is the perfect location to remind the public that many civil rights protesters spent time behind bars.
“King was sentenced at least 29 times,” says Farber. “For a black man or woman in the 1950s and 60s- to go to jail was a frightening experience. It was a sign of disrespectability. King’s letter was a reminder that- here I am, I’m Dr. King and I’m in jail, I’m serving the movement.”
Each reading will seat 40 members of the public. For more info or to reserve your space, go to easternstate.org.