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Earlier this month, the Jefferson County Commission unanimously passed a resolution to memorialize and preserve the former county jail space, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was held in 1967.
Located on the seventh floor inside the County Courthouse, King was confined following his arrest after getting off an airplane in Birmingham.
According to a Jefferson County Commission news release, this would become the last of King’s numerous arrests for civil disobedience, as the civil rights martyr was assassinated just months later on April 4, 1968.
“As the Jefferson County commission president pro-tem, I believe we should preserve Jefferson County’s history, while embracing the spirit of change that exists today,” said Lashunda Scales, who proposed the resolution.
Scales noted that while King’s 1963 arrest and his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written while in the city jail, is world famous, few know about his stays in the Jefferson County jails at both courthouses in Birmingham and Bessemer.
In Birmingham, a portion of the former jail remains on the seventh floor, including two cells. Scales wants the county to take additional steps to preserve the artifacts and make it available for public viewing.
Support from Sheriff Pettway
Along with the Commission, Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway also supported the resolution and presented several rare photos and booking documents that showcase King’s connection to the jail.
“As the first African American sheriff to represent Jefferson County, it is very important to memorialize the work of King and others, which is the reason I am here today,” Pettway said. “I want to educate people and I want the public to understand what this man did for us. It was a continuing sacrifice.”
Scales called the resolution a first step in finally acknowledging an invaluable piece of county, state and national history.
“Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is manifesting itself in the way Jefferson County is perceived today in Alabama as well as the nation,” Scales said. “In order for Jefferson county to move forward, it must first recognize its past mistakes, correct actions of old, and move forward with a sincere intent to embrace people from all walks of life.”
We look forward to seeing the Commission continue its efforts to preserve and restore this important piece of American history.
Text of the Resolution
Below is the text of Resolution 5109 which was adopted by the Jefferson County Commission:
WHEREAS, Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama, is known throughout history as the location of numerous pivotal events during this country’s Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; and
WHEREAS, among those many iconic moments in Civil Rights History is the final arrest of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and
WHEREAS, upon his arrival on October 30, 1967, in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. King was immediately arrested by Jefferson County Sheriffs Deputies and transported to the Jefferson County Jail located in the County’s Bessemer Division; and
WHEREAS, upon recommendation by the Bessemer Police Commissioner to the Jefferson County Sheriff, Dr. King and his brother were transported to the Jefferson County Jail located in the Birmingham Division; and
WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Jefferson County Commission to honor history by the acknowledgment and preservation of the jail spaces in both the Birmingham and Bessemer Courthouses where Dr. King was held.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE JEFFERSON COUNTY COMMISSION that it is its intent to honor history by the acknowledgment and preservation of the aforementioned spaces in recognition of the contributions to society by Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the place that Jefferson County holds in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.