Saturday, December 24, 2011

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

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In a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King Jr. writes to eight Alabama clergymen. This letter was written in response to a comment made by these clergymen to Martin Luther King Jr. while he was confined in a Birmingham Jail for parading without a permit. The clergymen suggested that the civil rights demonstrations that were held in Birmingham should come to an end, and that they were “unwise and untimely” (Birmingham, 1).

King Jr. felt a need to write to these men even though he usually didn’t answer his criticisms. He believed that they were generally good people inside, and that their criticisms were genuinely presented. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted these men, and others to understand the struggle of his people. He wanted the clergymen to know that they have done all that they could to make their point without protests, but now this was the only option left. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted all people to be brothers and sisters, and for segregation to no longer be an issue.

Martin Luther King Jr. was considered an extremist because of the measures he took to show people the injustices put upon the African American. King Jr. pointed out that oppression is something that no one can be happy with, and that nonviolent protest is a great outlet for it. Martin also went on to say that many of the great men of our nation were considered extremists in some right, and that if you are the right kind of extremist then it is a noble thing to be. He stated that he was an extremist for love and justice, not for hate.

During the time that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote this letter racial oppression was a huge issue. Black people could not go into most of the establishments that white people were allowed to go. White people were given the better bus seats, and even water fountains. Police brutality was often inflicted upon African Americans, and they were treated as an underclass. It was not a good time in America to be an African American, or even anyone of color. Especially someone such as Martin Luther King Jr. who was trying to rise above the oppressions put upon him and his people.

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Martin Luther King Jr. considered time neutral. His reasoning for this was because he believed that time could be used either constructively or destructively. “I am beginning to feel that people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will.” (Birmingham, ) King Jr. believed that we had to work hard on making things right with the world, and that time is always willing to do what is right. He thought that it was up to us if we wanted to make changes.

Martin Luther King Jr. stated that there were four steps to civil disobedience. The first was to collect facts to determine whether injustices are alive. The second step was negotiation. The third step was self-purification. And finally, the fourth step was direct action. King Jr. tells the clergymen that they have gone through all of the steps in Birmingham, and that it was very clear the racial prejudices were overwhelming.

In comments about breaking the law, Martin Luther King pointed out that there were just laws and unjust laws. A just law is a law that agrees with moral law or the law of God, that uplifts human personality, and a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is willing to follow it. An unjust law is out of sync with moral law, it is not rooted in eternal or natural law, degrades human personality, and a code that a majority inflicts upon a minority that is not binding on itself. King Jr. goes on to say that if you break an unjust law you must do it open and lovingly, and also be ready to accept the penalties involved.

I believe that the reason Martin Luther King Jr. wrote this letter was because he was tired of being considered less than others just because of his skin. He wanted to see a world without color, and just people. King Jr. was trying to make these clergymen understand why he took the actions he did. Unfortunately, the reason that he was pushed to this state was because of white society. It was only a matter of time before someone in the African American community took a stand the way Martin Luther King Jr. did. It is a shame that he can’t see how America has progressed from those times.

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