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Jefferson County to preserve jail cell where MLK was held shortly before his assassination

Civil rights legend and American icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent two-days in a jail cell at the Jefferson County Courthouse in 1967, and the cell in which he was held is now being turned into a historical exhibit.

As first reported by the Birmingham Times, the Jefferson County Commission has unanimously passed a resolution that preserves the cell and paves the way for it to possibly be memorialized as a historic landmark.

This new exhibit is not the cell where King authored the seminal text “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” That writing occurred at the Birmingham City Jail in 1963. The new Jefferson County memorial stems from a different arrest for parading without a permit.

All told, King was arrested 29 times in relation to his nonviolent protests on behalf of the oppressed black Americans in the South. He surrendered peacefully and served the time ordered in every instance.

One of the leaders of the new initiative for preserving the jail cell is Sheriff Mark Pettway, who is the first black sheriff of Jefferson County.

“I want to educate citizens about the county’s history. I want the general public to better understand what the movement provided for all of us and not just a few. It was and still is a continuous sacrifice,” Pettway told the Birmingham Times.

“In order for Jefferson County to truly move forward, we must first recognize our past mistakes, take corrective action, and move forward with a sincere desire to embrace people from all walks of life,” added Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.