STARKVILLE, Miss.--Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. penned the "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Mississippi State students, faculty and staff joined in a worldwide celebration recognizing the document's continuing influence.
The university's Americorps Volunteers in Service to America, along with the Maroon Volunteer Center, answered the Birmingham Public Library's international call to sponsor an April 16 reading on the same day when, 50 years ago, King composed the multi-page correspondence and presented the moral foundations of the non-violent civil rights demonstrations he helped lead.
"The Birmingham Library asked for people to do readings all over the country, so people all over the world are reading this today, not just here at Mississippi State," said Lacy Jaudon, public policy and administration master's student. "Everybody's celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."
Following the reading, Becky Smith, MSU agricultural economics extension instructor, led a discussion about how the context and assertions of King's correspondence apply today.
"King explains that it's inevitable: Change is going to come," said Michael Vinson Williams, assistant professor of history and African-American studies. "We need that same determination that we are going to push forth regardless. If you align yourself with other people who feel the same way, change will come."
King's letter suggests change results from extremists' actions; he cites Jesus as an extremist for love and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as extremists for equality.
Reader Candice L. Higginbottom, a senior English major from Jackson, suggested that King was communicating that extremism isn't necessarily bad.
"I like how King pointed out how all these people are extremists. These are people who've left their marks on history," she said. "It's OK to be extreme."
Discussions also focused on the importance of voting and creating change by going to the polls.
"You need to vote because you have the right to," said junior business information systems major Reggie Tenner, of Water Valley. "Voting is a right where you can make a difference."
Read a copy of "Letter from Birmingham Jail" at http://bit.ly/KLa2H.