MLK-Birmingham Letter

MLK-Birmingham Letter - i is'rom F! , .- "' g I .~...

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Unformatted text preview: i is'rom F! , .- "' g I .~ - “Atty/4w {.5 refer .t’o‘éX/l‘r/K/Y..// Var/z. my (54c (it-“fzi/r’ccrer/ ('3‘ watt, zfl’lr/{Z/N/e Overview In his "I .etter i'rom Birmingham Jail.” Martin i.ti1herKin§.{._lL.dein-eredan important st' I mcnl on eni rights and civil disobedience. The 1903 racial crisis in Birmingham. Naha- ma. was it critical turning point in the struggle for African American civil rights. Nonviolent protestors led h_\ King; laced determined oppo— sition from hard-core segregationists. king and his organiza— tion. the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [SCLC]. needed a victory- to sustain lhc momentum Ul‘lilL'it' movement. The integration oi domittmn stores and lunch counters was Ihe pl’inian- Focus of SELC's "Project LI" the "C" stood for critiji‘nittrrtion. Demonstrations lx‘gan one day alter a new city gorernment was elected. Many observers criticized King for pt'utt‘sliilg at a time when Birmingham's race relations appeared to he iiim-‘ing in a more positive direction. These eril- it‘s itlt'iLItliI‘L'l eight prominent uhile clergyn'ien who published it statet‘nt.:nt characterizing these protests as “unwise and untimely" and asixing :‘d‘ricnn -\inerictins to withdrziu their support from King‘s ei't'iirts ilitt|::f}"\x-u“zstatii-ord.edu.-’group.-" Kiiigtlirvt]tit-titdocs-icic[gt-.ptit'i. 'l'hc SCIL: timed its campaign to coincide with the iiast- er shopping: season. its strategy invoiced rising economic pressure to tone \rhitc businesses to remove segregated lacii— ities. extend more eottrleotis treatment to African American customers. and hire hiack salespeople. [sine was arrested on (.itJtitLi I'riday' in No} and remained imprisoned for eight da_\ s. He used his jail time to cmiiptise ti response to the clergynen. in his "i..ettci‘ from Birmingham jail." King: atrtit'LdtILcd a moral and philosophical defensi- oi' his tactics and delivered 'd stinging rehttke In those who ctmnscied caution on cit'ii rights. _-'\1thotig_1h king's iolter was not ptihiished zintii fli‘lt‘t' the Birmingham crisis “as rcsoired. it is which regarded as the most important \-\rit'.:‘:i doetinient oi' the modern civil rights inm-ezneiiY r1nd a ciaissit test ni‘. ci\ii rii 'Hit-dir‘ncc Context Birmingham had iong had a reputation as one [Ii-1i“? most racist and violent cities in llic South. Starling til 1‘74? s .sit'rim Len-nan Kth tic/’— _""~' //~‘ r/ Arr Me ntézénistt’z/ 'i J; // a series of bombings targeted the homes {)l‘Ai-i'it‘tlt‘t .-\mcri- cans “ho had moved into previously alt-white neighliat'ar- hoods. The Kit Kltts Klan operated openit' and was \s'ideh heiicred to he rt'sponsihie For these attacks. “’hen the ont- Nllillsi’li hlacix minister the Reverend tired Shuttiesu'orfn Formed the .-\ial)ania Christian .\l()\"t‘1!it"nl for Human Rights to press tor L‘i\'il rights. the terrorists struck his home and church. Because tin one was apprehended {or any at the more than i‘ii'h explosions. Birmingham blacks conclud- ed that the police “cm in ieagtte uith the hotnhers. PLti‘ilii' Strictly Commi. 'ioner Eugene "lhdl" Connor. an outspoken segregationist. tiscd all resources at his disposal to prescnc the jim ('rou system [laws and social practices that segre- gated and discriminated against ."\il'it‘tit‘l Americans). Connors i'teai\'_t'-handed methods aroused the ire of more temperate t-iric icadcrs. who hoped to create. a more hu'orahit- image to: their eit§_ these leaders spearheaded an effort to oust Connor h_\-' shifting the [orm oi'city govern- ment l'rom thrt-t- commissioners to a mat-or and a city emin- eii. On April 2. lites. Birmingham voters rejected Connor and eict'tcd .-\ii3crt Bonn-tell. a moderate segregationist. .is their nia_\'or. 'I'he losers immediately sued to prevent the neu- administralion i'rorn talking ol‘l'icc. For it time Birming- ham had t\-\'(] competing t'it_\' gotcrnmcnts. in _f;tmi;tr\ I‘it’r‘. the Ht‘! (' decided to make Bin-twing- ham the site oi its ne\t major eit'i! rights drive. the 5st '5 t' had stiiiilct'ed a serious sethaclt the [actions year in Kilian}; (it.‘t1l'_}_{i'<i. \\ iicl'c. tlesliiLt' months oil nonviolent struggle and hundreds ni' arrests. \ii'icttn '\nieric..'tns ucrc tniahie to urest any concessions iron] an intransigent cit}: govern— merit. Shiittlestmrth. the most prominent iirniinghasn cirii rights activist. assured the ECU; board that his t‘ii_\ would in.‘ different; (.Itmnor could he counted on to react in [I‘llill Ii(.‘il\'-\'l}filfl(l{:[_l Ellis-[3 1'] iill-gt‘l- oliicciire in mind; He hoped that is} creating gt crisis '1': Birmingham. he conic! ion-<- l’resident john 3". Kennedy 'fi tale.- itttic'!‘-nec:|ed aI-.'tir:It on ci\i| rights. :-"-‘!i-.|'|s.1'_'. '\lICI'-‘-' :I tlr‘l:. ifl|"~|||13:l:!‘it‘ lirttllttt'll (inr- l: -"-.i'i."i ‘I \tith sit-.nh and picitetiri}; :it tit)‘.’.nit1\‘.it department stores. ()n .-\pri| It} judge \‘t'. .-\. Jenkins issued an injunction [H'ti- at hiliiting ix'ing and udter cit ii rights tenders tram parts-j; in}; in 01‘ encouraging an} cit'ii distilicdience. King; det'itictt 1963 January 1 I] The Southern Christian Leadership Conlerencc targets Birmingham For civil rights demonstrations during the ore—Easter shopping season. April 2 Albert Bnutwell defeats Eugene "Bull" Connor in a runrit! election for mayor oi Birmrngham. April 3 Birmingham demonstrations beg i n. April 12 Martin Luther King, Jr; is arrested. refuses bail. and is placed in solitary confinement: "A Call for Unity" by eight Birmingham clergyman appears in the Birmingham News. hpril16 The text Li.‘ "Letter front Birmingham Jail" is smuggled out orjail. April 2|] King IS released lFOITl gait. May 3 Connor orders lire hoses and police dogs to be turned on young demonstrators Television coverage creates a groundsweil of support for King's movement. May 9 King announces an agreement With Birmingham business leaders to desegregate their establishments. ending the demonstrations. May 28 "Letter trom Birmingham Jail" is published by the American Friends StilVlCe Committee. June 11 President John l-. Kennedy proposes a comprehensive civil rights hill. August 23 King delivch his ‘I Have a Dream" Speech at LliF. March on Washington for Jobs and li'eetlosn. September 15 Birmingham‘s 16th Street Baptist Church is bombed. killing four young girls attending Sunday school. to defy the court order, and on Good Friday, April 12, he. the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and more than fifty othcr demonstrators were arrested. They were taken to the Birm- ingham City Jail, where King was placed in solitarj.r con- fincment. On April 12 a statement by eight white clergyman—a rabbi, a Catholic bishop. and six prornincitt Protestant leaders—appeared in the Birmingham News under the title “A Call for Unity." The); characterized thc demonstrations as "unwise and untimely" and claimed that the protests Were likely “incite to lia‘ttrcd and Violence" lltti[Sullt'vtflt-letm- ford.cdufgroupringi’frequcntdoufclcrgypdf'}. The authors praised the Birmingham media and police for the “calm manner" in which thcy handled thc civil rights forces and urged blacks to withdraw their support from King‘s efforts. The}: implied that King should return to Atlanta anti allow local residents to rcsolvc their differences without outside interference. King probably rcotl the churchmcn's declaration in a newspaper smuggled into his ct‘ll. Taylor Branch. author oi" Part.ng the Hitters: America in the King tears. 1954—63. credits Harvey Shapiro, an editor for the New York Times Magazine. For planting the idea that King write a lctter from prison during the Albany campaign. 'I‘hat nicssagc never materializcd, but now King realich the timt‘ was right. Almost immediately he began formulating a response. When King’s lawyer. Clarence joncs, visited him on April to, the jailed civil rights leader hut‘idcd Joncs the newspaper with his notes scribbled in the margins. S. jonathan Bass, author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, In, Fight White Religions Leaders, and the "Letter from Birmingham jail". describes what happened ncxt. The Rev- crcnd \\-’yzitt '1‘. Walker, SCIJC executive director. dcciphcred King's "chicken scratch" handwriting and dictated to his secretary. Willie Pearl Macks}, who typed the first rough copy. lawyers rcturncd the draft to King. who continued writing on scraps ol‘ paper provided by at hiaclt jail trnstce. \i‘t-lhcn hc was releascd from jail on April 20. thc bulk oftbc letter was composed. but King. according to Bass, “contin- ued writing. editing. and revisng dral‘ts scvcritl days after thc datc on thc. manuscript" lp. i331. The SCIL scnt the lcllcr to national media in early May. but lherc was littlc immediate reaction. llic New link Post printed cxccrpts in its May 19 edition. The American Friends Servicc‘ Committee published the full text of thc lcttcr as a pamphlet on May 28. It subsequently appeared in Christian Century. the Nc’lt' Leader. Atlantic it-‘Im-rthly, and Ebony. Ft slightly revised version was included in King’s l964 l)(l()l( i’l-‘T’tj' life (.Iimi'i l'i'hi'i. About the Author \lzxrtiit Lutht-i King. was thc prccnaincrtt lt':it.it.‘1' of the modern civil rights movcmcnt. Ills philosophi- of nonvi— olent direct action and inspirational orator)! helped over— throw thc Jim Crow system of racial scgrcgation and win greater rights for African America tts. MII.t;sTOM-‘. DOCUMENTS IN AMERIMN l-itsrom' l\ MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.’S “LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL” Mr Dear Fellow (".lergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham eity jail. i came across your recent statement call- ing my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do i pause to answer criticism of ntv work and ideas. if i sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my th‘Sl-t. tn_v secretaries would have little time For anything other Ihan such correspondence in the course of the day. and i would have no time for constructive work. But since. I leei that you are men of genuit'te good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth. I want to try‘ to answer your staten‘tents in what i hope will be patient and reasonable terms. I think I should indicate why I an] here in Birm- ingham. since. you have been iniiuenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of sewing as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. an organization operating in every southern state. with headquarters in Atlanta. (ieorgia. \-\-"e have. some eighty-ii»? til-lili- atcd organizations across the South. and one ol' them is the .-'\lahama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently Wt‘ share stall. educational and with months ago the affiliate herc in Birmingham asked linaneiai resources our affiliates. .‘ieverid us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct- aetion program it such were deemed necessar). We readily consented. and when the hour came n e lived up to our promise. So I. along with several members ol' my stall. am here because i was invited here I at]: here because i have organir..-ttional ties here. But more basically; i am in Birmingham because injustit‘e is here. _Iust as the prophets oi the eighth centtttt' HIS. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord” lar betond the bonntl' -' " 'tll their home ttmns. and just as the \poslle |‘.ntl lei-l his \il lage ol tarsus and carried the gospel ul lestzs (. hrist Ln tire iar runners oi |i‘.-t' {it'L-c'n-Huntsui rm. l compelled to carrv the gospel of freedom lie_\ond in}- own home toun. like Paul. I must constantly .-\tt'lIE\ let HER lx-I\(i.JR.i-s"la-1'11“ i-‘ttotn Bntvttxt'aitst j.-\||. respond to the N'lacedonian call For aid. Moreover. i am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all coni— nnmities and states. 1 cannot sil idly hv in .-"’ltlanta and not be con- cerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anps'here is a threal to justice even-where. \-\-"c are caught in an inescapahle network or mutuality. tied in a single gt-Irtncnt ol' destiny. \Yhat ever al’lects one directlv. all-eels all indirectly. Never again can we allord to live with the narrow. provincial "outside agitator“ idea. Anyone who lives inside the Unit- ed States can timer he considered an outsider any-'- where within its bounds. You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Iiirlningl‘tatn. But your statement. i am sorr)‘ to sit}; i Fails to express- a similar concern for the conditions that hrought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none til you nould want to rest content with the superfi I kind all social analysis that deals merch- with ell-eels and does not grapple with underiving causes. It is LH‘lltNltlliult.‘ that demonstrations are talc-- ing place in Birmingham. but it is even more unfor- tunate that the city’s white power structure lel'1 the Negro community nith no alternati\-'e.. in any nonviolent campaign there are lour hasie steps: collection ol the litets to determine whether injustices esist; negotialion; sell-purilicatiiin; and / direct action. ' ' have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. 'I here can he no gainsayirtg the lat't that racial injustice englill's this (‘{)l't‘|1‘|ll|T'til_\'. Birmingham is prob-.thlj. the most tltorougl'th segregated cit} ill the United htates. its ugh record ol brutalin is vvitielv known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. l'het'e l];1\t_' been more ttt'lsoivt‘ci lionthings nl \egro homes and churches in 1ht- nation. Birmingham than is: .tm oil.-r cit\ in I'heseett'ethehat'tl.i1t‘tttitl lirt'ts :11" the ease. UL“: LlH.‘ \l'} negolime with the tilt lathers. i-lut the latter consis- I: sis 'll- tljr-sr- --r-!- scitlfllfl lt.‘ tentlv rel-used 1o engaee in gootl-iailli negotiation 1 7'20 Then, last September. came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic commu- nity. to the course of the negotiations, certain prom- ises were made by the merchants—for example, to remove the stores. humiliating racial signs. 0n the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shut— tlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratori— um on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappoint- ment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would pres ent our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved. we decided to undertake a process of self—purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and _ we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you accept blows without retaliating?” “Are yd endure the ordeal of jail?” Vl-"c decided." I our direct-action program for the Ea - izing that except for Christmas. shopping period of the year. Koo economic withdrawal program we ' tlct of direct action, we felt the ' best time to bring pressure to for the needed change. ' _ Then it occurred to us that Birmingh m may- oralty election was coming up. n “larch, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after elec— tion day. When we discovered that the Commission— er of Public Safety. Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be. in the. run—off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run- off so that the demonstrations could not he used to cloud the. issues. Like many others, we waited to sec Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct—action program could be delayed no longer. You may well ask: "Why direct action? W'hy sit— ins, marches and so forth? lsnt negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seelx's to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to con- front the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resistor may sound rather shocking. But 1 must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnest- ly opposed violent tension. but there is a type of con- structive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half—truths to the. unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation: 'so 'Icfis'lisr'p‘acked that it will I I I I I egofiation. I therefore concur M’Eh .yottfln your'c’alllfor negotiation. Too long (gloved iSouthlan'iil'l‘men bogged down in a lived-in monologue rather than dia— _ _ _ flie- asic points in your statement is that fit action that l and my associates have taken in \ \ gham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why t you give the new city administration time to t?" The only answer that i can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham, ‘Whilc Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both scgregalionists. dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. l have hope that Mr. Routwell will bit! reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, l must say to you that we have not made. a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentahly. it is an histor- ical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture: but, as Reinhold Nit‘btihr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. Wt- know through painful experience that free- rloni is never voluntarily given by the opprcssor; i1 must he demanded by the oppressed. Fl'illll\l}'. l have ytt ltJ t‘rtgugt" in it Llll't‘t'i-iit'iit}'.'. {‘ttll’iifiilfj’ii that t'tkth' "well timed" in the. View of those who have not suf- fered unduly from the disease of segregation. For l\'llLL-'t-i'l'()Nl:' l)lJ(.'.t=i\‘I]-.-\u r\= -\:\l|-.'It]t.2.-\N HISJ'URT years now ] have heard the word “Whit!” It rings in the car of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “\Vait” has almost always meant “Never.” we must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists. that “justice too long delayed isjustice denied." We have waited for tnore than 340 years for our constitutional and God—given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are. moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence; but we still creep at horse-and‘buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those. who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Vi-hit.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at Whim: when you have seen hate—filled policemen curse. kiclt and even kill your black brothers and sisters- when you see. the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammcring as you seek to explain to your six—year—old daughter wit she-- been advertised on television; and see to up in her eyes when she is told that _ _ ' us loads by developing an unconscioqu white people; when you liaveto'conc for a five—year-old son who is aSltiiigt__‘-‘Da.ddy, do while people treat colored people so -meaii?”:' when you take a cross-county drive and-find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nag— ging signs reading “whitc' and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger." your middle name becomes "boy" [however old you arel and your last name becomes "john," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs"; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro. living constantly at tiptoc stance; never quite knowing what to expect next. and are plagued with inner fears and outer rcsentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodincss"~ —theu you will understand why we find it difficult to unit. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs tJt'r'T‘. and men arc no longer will— ing to be plunged into the.- e-byss of despair. i l‘tt)pt\ sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoid— able impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willing- ness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate con- cern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey tltc. Supreme Court's decision of I 9'34 outlawing segrega- tion in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "1 low can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely; one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all." Now; what is the difference between the. two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is aimhnér'nade'eode that squares with the inorallaw or the law 'of God. An unjust law is at d is" with the moral law. '_To"':-'pu_t _t in theterms” of'ISt. Thomas Aquinas: An ' unjust law is-a-hiiman law that is not rooted in eter- nai ' w andhamral law. Any law that uplii‘ts human ___ty_isjtist. Any law that degrades human per— __ity- is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust bee thépérsonality. It gives the segregator a false sense ol‘ ease segregation distorts the soul and damages superiorin and the segregated a false sense of inferi- ority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the jew- ish philosopher Martin Huber. substitutes an "l-it" relationship for an “l-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. llencc seg— regation is not only politically; economically and sociologically unsound. it is morally wrong and sin- ful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man‘s tragic separation; his awful estrangcntent; his terrible sin— l‘ulncss'.2 Thus it is that 1 can urge men to obey the I954 decision of thc Supreme (lourt; for it is moral- ly right: and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances. for they are morally wrong. Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust law's. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minor— ity group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same taken. a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. 'l‘his is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. .-\ law is unjust if it is inflicted on El minority that. an a I'cstllt of being denied the right to vote. had no part in cnac ting or devising the. law. Who can say that the legislature oi' 3:3! to manna 33H“): 'i()}1i'}12 {fit-i Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts ofdevious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered \‘olers. and there are some counties in which. even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population. not a single Negro is reg— istered. Can any law enacted under such circum— stances be considered dentoerati ~ally structured? Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance. l have been arrested on a charge of' parading without a permit. Now: there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit lor a parade. But such an ordi- nance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the l‘“lt’.<l«-"\Il'lt.‘n(l- meut prhilege ol‘ peucclul assembly and protest. l hope you are able to see the distinction l am try- ing to point out. In no sense do i advocate evading or defying the lawr as would the rabid segregationist. 'l'} at would l‘.:1(l to anareln-L One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly. and with a willingness to accept the penalty. | submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells-him is unjust. and who willingly accepts the penalty ol” imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice. is in reality express- ing the highest respect {or law. Of course. there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublime-1y in the rei‘usa] ol‘ Shadrach. Mcshach and Abedncgo to obey the laws ol‘ Nebtichadneyzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the. excruciating pain ol' chop- ping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman limpire. To a degree. academic I‘rec‘ doni is a reality today because Socrates practiced I. "l disobedience. in our own nation, the Boston Tea Parti- rcpresented a massire :th ol' civil disobedience. ‘r’i-‘c should never forget that everything Adolf lliller did in Germany was "legal" and (‘\-'c]'ythii15_: the Hungarian l'reedoni lighters did in Hungary was “ille- gal." it was "illegal" to aid and comfort at jeu in Hitler's Germany. been so. i am sure that. had i lived in Germany at the time, i would have aided and com- lorted myjcwish brothers. li'today I lived in :1 (. om- munist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed. l \muld openly rulin- catc disobeying that country's etniireligiolis [an s. 1 must make two honest :‘ranl'i-ssiruis to Hill. n". {:lit‘islinn and jeuish brothers. l'irst. I must confess that over the past l'ew years I have been gravel}- dis- appointed with the white moderate. l have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride Ioward freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner. but the white modcratc. who is more devot- ed to "order" than to justice: who prefers a negative peace Which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence oljustice: who constant- ly says.- "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but l cannot agree with your methods of direct action": who paternalistically heliercs he can set the timetable for another man‘s freedom; who lit-cs by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait tor a "more comenient season." Shallow understanding from people ol' good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. [lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. 1 had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist lor the purpose of establishingjustice and that when they tail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the lion ol' social progress. I had hoped that the \\ltitc moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase ol' the transition Ii'om an obnoxious negative peace. in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight. to a substantch and positive peace. in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality Actually, we who engage in non— violent direct action are not the creators ol' Icnsion. “is merer bring to the stJJ‘l-alcc the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in thc open. where it can he seen and dealt with. like a boil that Ciln i‘lt‘\'t‘r‘ bl] (‘ul‘L’Ll SU lUllg ii.‘i t.‘U\'(’J't‘tl Up but must he opened with all its ugliness to [lie natural medicines ol‘ air and light injustice must be exposed. with all the tension its exposure creates. to the light ol‘ human conscience and the air ol national opinion Incl-ore it can bc cured. in your statement you assert that our actions. even though peaceful. must be condemned bt-cuilsc they precipitate violence. llut is this a logical asser- tion? Isn‘t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of' money precipilaletl the ei'il act oi" roblacri'? isn't this like condemningJ hocratcs because his unsuerving crmimilrnc—nr to truth and his philosophical inquiries prr. Ijllglu'tl lllt' :tL'I it} [lie misguided popular»- in uh' I:i.tt|t- lll.".! Ell-lllh -. g- I ..t'|1‘.'fJ<n." J ll.\'\. -".Jr.:i i':=_=_ it-siis |,!'L'£i\i*1‘.._' his unique (}¢id-ctuiscioiisricss and “It-\cz'ez-a cilixion? \-"r"e must come to see that. as the lederal courts have consistently iilT'ii-nied. it is urong lo ii rge an individual to cease his ei'l-orls to gain his basic eonstilutioni-il rights because the quest may precipi- tate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. i had also hoped lhal the white moderate would reject the lTl}-'li} concerning time in relation to the struggle l‘or freedom. l have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. lie writes: "All Chris— Iians lcnovv that the colored people \vill receive equal rights ex-‘eniiialiv. hut 'ii is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. it has lilixL’Ii Christianiiv almost two thousand years to accomplish vilial it has. 'I'he teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.“ Such an attitude stems hour a tragic miscuncepiion ol' time. from the strangely irrational notion that tiicre is somelhing in the eerv line. of time that will inevitably care all ills. Atltlally. time itsell‘ is neutral; it can be used either tlcsti'octiveh-‘ or constructively More and more I fuel that the people of ill will have used time much more ell'ectiv-elv than have the [JL‘O‘ pie ol- good will. Vt-"e will have to repent in this gener— ation not merer lor the hateful words and actions of the had people hut tor the appalling silence of the good people. lluman progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability: it comes through the tireless ei'liorls of men \‘l'il ' g to he era-workers with God, and without this hard work. time itself becomes an aliy of the i'orces ol' social stagnation. \Ne must use time creatively. in the lino“ ledge that the time is alw ripe to do right. Now is the lime to make real the 'N promise ol' democran and transform our pending national elegv into a creative psalni oi- l‘ilolhei'hood. Nou is the time to lilit our national policy from the (ltlit‘ixh‘lllltl ol racial injustice to the solid l'UCh oi human dignitv. \oii speak ol' our activity in iirmingham as extreme .-'\E i‘irst l was rather disappointed that icllou clergvlnen \\oir|d sce niv nonviolent cl'loris as [hose or an extremist. l began thinking about the lact that I stand in the middle oil [UH opposing iorces in the Negro ('H!111ltll|iil_\. ()m- is a I'orce oil complacency. made Lip in part oi' Negroes vi ho. as a result oi long years oil oppression. are so drained oi sell-respect and sclise ol'“soineimdines. " that [hev have adjusted to segregation; and in part iii a lee. middle-class \egroes who. because ol a degree ol academic and economic secui'in and because in sonn- '-.\.;1.\\ il1\.'_\ pi-olii in scg t‘t'UEililiii. have iii-come iitsc-nsitiic to the |J|'|iliit'tii‘s oi- ihe iiizissi-s. in: other iorce is one :11 iiitLei'ness and hatred. and it comes periliiuslv close in advocating NiARTIN It'riii'i: line. I]n.'s "Li-1 i'l'l-Jt i-‘iiovi ifiiiiviismmvi _[.\ii ” \-‘ioience. It is expressed in the various hlacli national‘ isi groups that are springing up across the nation. the largest and hest-lmovvn being i.- _ah h'iiihaminatl‘s Muslim movement. Nourished hv the Negros l-I'USil‘tl- tion over the continued esistenee oi racial discrimina- tion. this movement is made rip of people who have lost faith in America. who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the uhile man is an incorrigihle "devil." l have tried to stand hetvveen these two Forces. the "do- notl‘lingisin" of the complacent nor the hatred and saying that we need emulate neither despair ol' the black nationalist. For there is lliL' more eseellent way of love and nonviolent protest I am gratelul to (Sod that. through the influence or the Negro church. the nav ol' nonvioiencc became an integral part of our struggle. it this philosophy had not emerged. lav [tom mani- streets of the South would, I arr: convinced. be How— ing with bloodAnd 1 am further convinced that ii' on!" white brothers dismiss as "i'ahhle-roiisers" and "oirt- side agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct actiori. and if they refuse to support our nonvi- olent el‘l‘orts. millions of Negroes will. Out (ii-frustra- tion and despair. SL’L‘h solace and sciriii‘iiv in liltlt‘lt- nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to ii frightening racial nightmare. Uppressed people cannot remain oppressed i‘orev- er. The yearning for l'I'cedom eventually nianil‘esls itself. and that is what has happened to the .-\merican Negro. Something wilhin has reminded him o'l his birthright oil lil'L‘Cdtil'fi, and something without has reminded him that it can he gained. (Coiiscioiislv oi‘ unconsciously”. he has heen caught up by the Zeitgeist and with his IIlFIt'i‘ hrolhers oiAliica and his hroun and yellow brothers o|-.-\sia. South America and the Caribbean. the Lil'lilt’tl States \cgro is nan iiig \\ itii a sense oi great iii'genc} ionard the promised land ol racial justice. iii one recognizes this vital urge that has cngiili'cti the Negro commiinitv. one should read- il_\ understand Hi1}:1‘JlJlIlit'tll'll'ltil‘iSli'tllitJlir-i are ialcir‘ig placc.Tl1e Negro has manv pt‘l'lt'Llp resciitiilcnts and latent i'riisiratioiis. and he must release Iiiem. “So lel him march; iet him malte praver pilgrimages to the eii_\ hall: lei him go on lth‘L’titJiil rides—and try in iii‘iderstand “in he must do so. ii-liis repressed emo- lim‘iy, are not released in t'tlJt'HiOlt‘t'H wavs. tl'iL‘_\' \vill ${’L‘l\ expression through violence. ihis is noi a threat inui a iacl oi history. Ho i iiavi not said to iii}. people: "(ict t'iti oi\_\our Lil‘sttlllit'lii.” i'iaiiit'i. l li.i\c ii'iL'Li La i into the creative outlet Iii m‘l_\ ihai 1iizs porn .2 ant: iii-.eEIiii iiiscontciii ca_ lie channeied nonviolent 153 :t. .‘n- .3“.- 3t \l.. tint 1; direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though [ was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist. as 1 continued to think about the matter l gradually gained a measure of sat- isfaction from the label. Was not ‘Iesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies. bless them that curse you. do good to them that hate you. and pray for them which despitelully Ilse you. and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever— llowing stream." Wits not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "] bear in my body the marks of the Lord jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist.- "Here 1 stand: I cannot do otherwise, so help tne God." And john Bunyan: "1 will stay in jail to the end of my days helore i make a hutchery of my con— science." And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half Slave and half free." And 'l'homas jelfer- son: “We hold these truths to be self—evident, that an . men are created equal..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists. but what icindjof _' extremists We will be. Will we be extremists for ' or for love? Will we be extremist for the p'reseryatlon of injustice or for the extension ol‘justiee? 'I bid-tat ' dramatic scene on (Iaivary’s hill three meg-twere'Cru cil‘ied. We must never forget thatall-three Werecru cit‘ied For the same crime——the critrieof-extret'utsm.” 'l'wo were extremists for immorality, “and thus-fell : below their environment. The other, was an extremist for love, truth and and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South. the nation and the world are in dire need ot creative extremists. I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps 'I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. l suppose l shonltl have realized that few members ol‘ the oppressor race can under- stand the deep groans and passionate yearnings ol‘ the oppressed race. and still l'cwcr have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, per- sistent and dcterniined action. [am thankful, howev- er. that some ol‘onr white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. 'l‘hey are still too few in quantity. but they are big in quaiily. Some such as Ralph Mciiill. Lillian Smith. Harry Golden. james Mcllritlc IJahbs. '—\nn liradcn and Sarah ’atton Boyle "lune uritlen about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets ol' the South. The}; have lan- guished in Filthy. roac-l‘i-iltfcstecl jails. suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers" Unlike so many of their moder- ate. brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency oithe moment and sensed the need for pow— erful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of seg— regation. Let me take note of my other major disappoint— ment. 1 have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadt‘rship. OF course. there are some notable exceptions. i am not unniindiul ol the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. l commend you. Reverend Staiiings, for your Christian stand on this past Sun— day. in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregaied basis. 1 commend the Catholic leaders of this state lorintegrating Spring Hill (Jol— lege several years-agoL-5 I' " _ ' ' Buldespitg these; notable-Hexeeptions. i must hon- ' " ' isappointed with the Ichurcis I do not ._say_t_his as one ol' those negative rifles-Who always find something wrong with y this as a minister ofthe gospel. who loves the ehorch; who was nurtured in its bosom: who-has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and .Who'tiiiill remain true to it as long as the cord of lti lengthen. ' When I was suddenly catapulted into the leader- ship of the bus protest in h‘lontgomery, Alabama, a {new years ago. i felt we would be supported by the white church. i felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our Strongest allies. instead, some have been outright opponents. refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders.- all too many others have been more. cautious than coura- geous and have remained silent behind the anes- thetizing security ol' stained-glass windows. in spite of my shuttered dreams. l came to Birm- ingham with the hope that the white religious lead- ership ol‘this community would see the justice of our cause and. with deep moral concern. would serve as the channel through which ourjust gri vances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disap- pointed. l have heard numerous southern reiigit.ttis leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegre' gation decision because it is the law, but i have longed to hear white ministers declare: "l-t'illon' this decree because integration is morallv right and bccutlsc the Negro is your brother.” in the midst ol‘ blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, l have , [\“llLL'STtJNF [Joot MEN s IN!\3IIER1t‘Z.-\N thsroln' watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctirnonious trivial- ities. in the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice. l have. heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues. with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other—worldly religion which makes a strange. tin—Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular. l have traveled the length and breadth of Aloha— ma. MiSsissippi and all the other southern states. 011 sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings l have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. l have beheld the impressit'e outlines of her massrve religious-edu— cation buildings. Over and over i have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposi- tion and nullification? Where were they when Cov- crnor Wallace gave. a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of sitpport'Iwiieri__I bruised and weary Negro men and women decided'ito'- rise from Ihe (lurk dungeons of complacency to-thc. bright hills of creative protest?" ch these questions are still _ deep _ disappointment I have wept over the-laxity of'the. church. But he assured that my tears have been-tears of love. There. can he no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes. _I low-3 the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in thief-rather unique posi- tion of being the son. the grandson and the great- grandson of preachers. Yes. [ see the church as the body of (.lh risl. But obi How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of beng nonconformisls. There was a timc when the church was very pow» cri'ul—in the time when the curly Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to stiffer for what they believed. in those days the church was not Inereiy a them-tomcter that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion: it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town. the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturhers ofthc peace" and "outside agitators“ But the Christians pressed on. in the conviction that they were ":1 colony of hcu‘ficii." called to obey {,oti rather than mam. Small in number. they were big in eomnutmenl. ‘l-llt'ty \i'crc tot) (sod-intoxicated to hi‘ "astronomicnily intimidated." By their effort and ‘LL: lei: FRO.“ Bl!t.\-ll!\'t’iilA.\i JAIL” example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contempo- rary church is a weak. ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the pres— ence of the church, the power structure of the. aver— age. community is consoled by the church's silent— and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of (loci is upon the church as never before. If today‘s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit oi'the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the. loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no mean— ing for the twentieth century. Everyday] meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. Perhaps l have oncoagain'been too optimistic. ls .orgaxfized religion-too inextricably bound to the status ' quo to save out-[nation and the world? Perhaps [ must turttmy faith to the inner spiritual church. the '(iburchfthe church. as the true clelelesia and .- the_.__hopeo_f the world. But again i am thankful to God -'that"some-nohle souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains '_ ofconforrnity and joined us as active partners in [he ' struggle for freedom. They have left their secure con- ' gregations and walked the streets of Albany. Georgia. with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous ridcs for freedom. Yes. they have gone. to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches. have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. Bul they have acted in the. faith that right defeated is stronger than cvii triumphant. 'l'heir witness has been the spiritual salt that has pre— served the true meaning of the gospel in these trou— bled times. They have can ed :1 tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet [he chal- lenge of this decisive hour. litil even if the church does not come to the aid oi'justice. l have no despair about the future. l have no fear aboul the outcome of our strugglc in Birmingl'ium. even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of frcedom in Birmingham and all over the tuition. because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we. may be, our destiny is tied up with America‘s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Ply- mouth. wc were here. Before thr- pcn of Jt'i'll-E‘T'Sflil (‘tt‘l‘tt‘t‘l tlit‘ majestic \i'nt'tis ‘ll [ht' i)t‘t'léirillltrli fill ludic- pcndcncc across the pages oi history. m- were hcrc. lior more than two centuries our forebears labored in ,.. “'25 I- 133 i ii i 1 'fix": m N“; r . 1726 this country Without wages; theyr made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shamelul humiliation—and yet out of a bottomless Vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery Could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage ol‘ our nation and the eternal will of (find are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled rne prol‘oundly. You warmly commended the Birming— ham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." i doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed. nom-‘iolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly com‘ mend the policemen if you were to observe. their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail: if you were. to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys: ill you were to observe them. as they did on also]. occasions. refuse to give us ootl because we - to sing our grace together. I cannot join you 'i-i'izybttr praise of the Birmingham police. departrnent. ' ' [t is true that the police have exercised-a degree. . . of discipline in handling the demonstrators.- lit-this sense they have conducted themselves rathe_r"“no'nvi- olently" in public. But for what purpose? To preshrye the evil system of segregation. Over the post-few years I have consistently preached that Inonyiolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. l have tried to make clear that it is wrong; to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must al‘l‘irrn that it is just as wrong, or per- haps even more so. to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his police- men have been rather nonviolent in public. as was Chief Pritchett in Albany. (icorgia. but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As l. 5. Eliot has said: “'l'hc lnsl temptation is the greatest treason: lo do the right deed for the wrong reason." I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators ol Birminghth For their sublimi- courage. their willingness to Miller and their amzwing discipline in the midst ol‘grcat provocation. One day the South will rccognirc its real heroes. l'hcy will he - . {afraid it is much too long to take your precious little. the james Mercdiths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face. jeering. and hostile mobs. and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the. life. of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed. battered Negro women. symbolized in a seventy—two— year~old woman in Montgomery, Alabama. who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decid- ed not to ride segregated buses. and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired. but my soul is at rest." They will be. the young high school and col- lege students. the young ministers ofthe gospel and a host of their elders. courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willineg going to jail for conscience" sake. One day the Smith will know that when these. disinherited children of God sat down at lunch a : inreality standing 1'] oflndcpendcnee. _ Never before have 1 written so long a letter. l’m ' .11 assure you that it would have been much short— 2e ill had been writing from a comfortable desk. but what else. can one do when he is alone in a narrou jail cell. other than write long letters. think long thoughts and pray long prayers? l have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience. [ beg you to forgive. me. If [ have. said anything that understates the truth and indicatcs my having :1 patience that allows me to settle. for anything less than brotherhood. i beg God to forgive Ute. hope this letter finds you strong in the Faith. 1 also hope. that (‘ircuti‘islances will soon make is pos- sible for me to meet each of you, not as an integra- tionist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergy— man and a Christian brother. let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep log oi misunderstanding will be lifted from our rear-drenched t‘ot‘nmtmilies. and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars ol' love and brotherhood will shim: over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty. ‘t’onrs For the cause of Peace. and lirr'tthcrhc'aotl. Martin l..uther King. Jr. .\"ltl.t15'i‘0I\i-; Docmumrs IN AMERICAN His't'oiu' ...
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This note was uploaded on 02/27/2011 for the course ENGL 278 taught by Professor Sitar during the Fall '10 term at Loyola Chicago.

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MLK-Birmingham Letter - i is'rom F! , .- &amp;quot;' g I .~...

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