In April 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama alongside other prominent civil rights activists for leading a nonviolent direct-action campaign of coordinated marches and sit-ins against racism and segregation in one of the most racially divided cities in the United States.
During his time in prison, King penned the “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” The letter brings into sharp focus the aspects of King’s legacy that are often overshadowed by his reputation as a pacifist. He discusses the inextricable link between racial and economic justice, our moral obligation to reevaluate unjust laws, and the power of leaning on our communities in this fight.
As we find ourselves in a post-Roe America, facing several health crises as a country, these themes continue to be incredibly timely. Today, 1 in 3 women of reproductive age, plus many trans and non-binary people, have lost access to life-saving abortion care. Black women and other marginalized communities are feeling the greatest burden of abortion access inequity, while the U.S already has striking racial disparities in maternal-mortality rates, with Black women nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts. The growing lack of reproductive health care and maternal health care disproportionately jeopardizes the lives, families, and futures of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous communities. Yet, their resilience and fight for reproductive justice allow them to continue pursuing liberation. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” Dr. King wrote.
Today, we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dedication to the fight for racial justice. As the fall of Roe v. Wade continues to adversely affect communities of color, deepening existing racial health care disparities, it is evident that this fight continues with a renewed urgency.
As we at Planned Parenthood of Greater New York reflect on our own complex history as a sexual and reproductive health care provider and educators, we recommit ourselves to Dr. King’s vision and to doing the work of undoing racism within our own organization and in our communities.