|Jefferson County, Alabama Leaders Unite to Memorialize and Preserve Former Court House Jail that Held Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967
Just days before the nation commemorates the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., officials in Jefferson County announced plans to preserve and share a little known, yet significant piece of civil rights history sitting silently at the courthouse in downtown Birmingham. (Media coverage of event: Metro Monitor NewsTracker Report-MLK-Co Jail.pdf)
Jefferson County President Pro-Tem Lashunda Scales recently presented a unanimously approved resolution to memorialize and preserve the former county jail and its surviving cells located on the seventh floor inside the County Courthouse. It was on the seventh floor in late 1967 that King was confined following his arrest after getting off an airplane in Birmingham. This would become the last of his 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,” Scales said. Scales also 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 jail sat both courthouses in Birmingham and Bessemer.
A portion of the former jail remains on the seventh floor, including two cells. Scales’ resolution seeks to bring attention to the history that stands silently upstairs. Eventually,Scales will take additional steps to preserve the artifact and make it available for public viewing.
Pettway also appeared before the commission to support the resolution and present several rarely seen historic 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.”