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Newtown Friends set discussion on King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail


Deborah Watts and Mark Ratliff of Newtown Quaker Meeting will lead a discussion on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” at 9:45 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 20.

Following the presentation at the Newtown Quaker Meetinghouse, 219 Court St., Newtown, there will be worship in the manner of Friends at 11 a.m., with people speaking out of the silence as they are moved to do so.

Watts, of Newtown, is performing arts department chair and music director at the Hun School of Princeton, N.J., and Ratliff of Pennington, N.J. is senior infrastructure architect, Office of Information Technology, Princeton University.

King and Quakers crossed paths quite often. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) sponsored his trip to India in 1959 to study the nonviolence of the Gandhi organization.

Bayard Rustin, one of the organizers of the March on Washington, was a Quaker – as was Joan Baez, one of the singers. Many Quakers marched with King and met with him. The “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written on scraps of paper and smuggled out by his lawyer, was first published by the AFSC (Quakers) which ran off 50,000 copies.

King had been arrested in Birmingham, Ala., April 16, 1963 for holding a parade without a permit.

The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” defends the use of nonviolent resistance to racism. It says people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts.

On Jan. 20, the discussion will explore the following questions: “When in your life have you been moved to ‘travel’ to the site of injustice?”

“What sort of injustice would motivate you to act?” “How do people act on inward guidance of Spirit in response to injustice?” “When is it appropriate to work patiently within the ‘system,’ and when is it appropriate to take more direct action?”