Speakers will step up Tuesday in Modesto to recite what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from an Alabama jail exactly 50 years earlier.
Modesto Junior College is taking part in a global event that commemorates "Letter from Birmingham Jail," one of King's best-known statements on racial equality.
From noon to 1 p.m., volunteers will take turns at the microphone reading parts of the letter at the east campus quad.
King started writing the lengthy document on April 16, 1963, after he was jailed for violating a law against mass demonstrations.
"He's speaking about something that was so important in our history, American history," said Jason Wohlstadter, an English professor helping to put on the MJC event. "But he's also speaking in favor of social justice in a timeless way."
The Birmingham Public Library organized the worldwide readings, hundreds of which are listed on its website. King's words will ring out at the Apartheid Museum in South Africa, Queen's University in Northern Ireland, Palmer Station in Antarctica and many other places.
MJC is the only listed site in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The reading is sponsored by the college's Civic Engagement Project, the Literature and Language Arts Division and the Black Student Union.
In 1963, Birmingham was at the center of the battle to overturn laws that denied blacks full access to schools, restaurants, voting booths and other places in the South. The nation saw photos of police using dogs and fire hoses against protesters. A church bombing that September killed four girls.
King wrote the letter in response to eight fellow clergymen who had complained in the Birmingham News that his strategy of nonviolent direct action was "unwise and untimely."
"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed," he wrote. "Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was 'well-timed,' according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation."
King concluded with an appeal: "Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
HOW TO TAKE PART
People who would like to read part of King's letter aloud at MJC can send an email in advance to email@example.com., or they can show up and see if slots are available.
The full text of the letter is at mlk-kpp01. stanford.edu, the website for the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
More information on the worldwide observance is at www.bplonline.org, the website of the Birmingham Public Library.