Alabama marks site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 jail letter

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:06pm EDT

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter helped unveil a historical marker on Tuesday in the Alabama city where he penned his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," as people worldwide held readings to mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights leader's words.

More than 100 people gathered outside a former jail in Birmingham, Alabama, to commemorate the letter, which King wrote from a jail cell on April 16, 1963, in response to eight white clergymen who criticized his demonstrations against segregation as "unwise and untimely."

King had been arrested for violating a law against mass public demonstrations in a southern U.S. city rife with racial unrest. His letter, an important document from the civil rights movement, contains the oft-quoted line "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"The City of Birmingham tried to run him out of town and now is honoring him as one of their heroes. How times have changed," said King's youngest daughter, Bernice King, who serves as chief executive officer of the King Center in Atlanta.

Bernice King joined Alabama's governor and other elected officials at a ceremony for the new marker outside the former jail, now an administrative office for the Birmingham Police Department.

The original jail cell is on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Her father wrote the lengthy letter in the margins of a newspaper, on scraps of paper from a black jail trustee and, finally, on paper brought in by King's lawyers.

He chastised the slow path to justice preferred by white moderates, whom he called "the Negro's great stumbling block."

Governor Robert Bentley said he reread the letter on the eve of the anniversary.

"Over the course of 7,000 powerful words, King shared the painful struggles of those who suffered discrimination," Bentley said. "We are better and stronger today because of his actions."

People from 28 U.S. states and 10 countries notified the Birmingham Public Library that they planned to remember King's letter by reading it aloud on Tuesday, said Jim Baggett, the library's archivist.

"It has a tremendous meaning all around the world and inspired activities such as Tiananmen Square," Baggett said. "It speaks to people who are oppressed and seeking justice."

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Todd Eastham)