MLK, Jr. in other words

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during...

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, later in 1963. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Logic) English 2 – Critical Thinking and Writing (Spring 2007)

MLK, Jr. in other words
(Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

[Students and professors, please read.]

The demonstrations should continue with the goal of effecting negotiation that has up to this point in a very long history proved unsuccessful.

The city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative other than demonstrating.  We pursued the four steps of a non-violent campaign:  fact gathering, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.  Here are the gathered facts:  racial injustice engulfs this community, Birmingham is the most segregated city in the U.S., its ugly record of brutality is widely known, negroes experience grossly unjust treatment in the courts, and there are more reports of unsolved negro home and church bombings in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation.  The next step, negotiation, was sought by Negro leaders but the city fathers refused.  We talked with the economic community last September, but promises to remove racial signs were broken.  The next step, self-purification, involved holding workshops on non-violence, and asking ourselves questions like “Are you able to accept blows without retaliation?”, “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?”.  The final step, direct action, was scheduled for Easter to put pressure on merchants, but was postponed due to the election and run-off that followed.

“Why direct action?”  “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

“Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?”  Both administrations are segregationist.  Oppressive groups do not give up privilege or give freedom voluntarily, they must be pressured to do so.  “Wait” has been the response for years.  “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”  It is easy to say “wait” when you aren’t the one experiencing [ very long list of horrible social injustices written in the letter ].  The attitude that “colored people will receive equal rights eventually” is an ally of the forces of social stagnation.  Now is the time.

“How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?”  There are two types of laws:  just and unjust.  I advocate obeying just laws, and breaking unjust laws (accepting the penalty in order to arouse community consciousness), out of the highest respect for law.  [Respectable examples given of civil disobedience, like these demonstrations, to unjust laws, like segregation laws (like Boston Tea Party).]  [Examples given of atrocities, like segregation, that were legal, like segregation is (like Hitler’s actions in Germany).]  Laws exist to establish justice, and when they fail in that, they become dams that block the flow of social progression towards establishing justice.  The white moderate resist positive change toward justice in preference of negative peace which leaves tensions festering, whereas nonviolent direct action allows those tensions to be dealt with, exposed and cured.

Your statement that peaceful actions should be condemned because they precipitate violence is like condemning a robbed man because he possessed money that led to robbery.  Society (the federal courts) must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

You have categorized me as an extremist.  The way of love and nonviolent protest stands between two extremes:  the “do-nothingism” of the complacent, and the hatred and despair of the black nationalist.  If this way had not emerged, the South would be flowing with blood.  If we are dismissed as outsiders, millions of negroes will turn to violence, due to pent-up resentments and latent frustrations caused by injustice.  I am an extremist for civil rights and brotherhood, as Jesus was also an extremist for love.

**obviously much of this is in his words

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