Civil Rights Movement and Human Rights
“In order for society to function peacefully, there are certain rights and freedoms that individuals are entitled to. Throughout history, there have been many people, such as, Martin Luther King and Pope Benedict XVI that have committed their lives to form a more equal system of justice. King throughout the 1950s and 1960s was known as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he fought to end racial segregation and discrimination in America. In 1963, King was arrested while fighting for better treatment of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, he was charged with parading without a permit. While serving his sentence he wrote an open letter to the public titled, Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Benedict served as the head of the Vatican Council from 2005 to 2013. Benedicts third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate was released June 2009, his teachings focused on humanity and its relationship with charity, truth, and love. Both King and Benedict used nonviolent approaches to exemplify their need for unity and their commitment to the common good of society.
King addressed his letter to the white, liberal clergymen of the churches in Alabama, he began by telling them why he was in Birmington. He stated that he was in Birmington because as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he had been invited to assist the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in a nonviolent protest for integration. More importantly, King was in Birmingham because there was a racial injustice, he says, “” I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”” (King 121). Birmington, Alabama was one of the worst places in the United States for black people to live in, their community was constantly surrounded by negativity. King says, “”Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States… Negros have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been many unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation”” (King 122). King stated that he no longer understood what it meant to be a citizen of the United States because he felt as if his freedom had been stripped away from him, which inspired him to make sure no other United States citizen felt disappointed in their country. He created a goal to end segregation and portray to the public the experience of segregation from an oppressed colored person’s viewpoint.
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Throughout King’s letter, he compared himself to many famous extremists such as the Apostle Paul, John Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Jesus Christ. King dedicated this letter to the Apostle Paul because he believed that they shared many similarities. He says, “”… far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my home town”” (King 121). Both King and Paul were punished and sentenced to jail for preaching the word of the Gospel. During Paul’s imprisonment, he continued to spread the Gospel and fulfill his duties as one of Jesus’s apostles. King expressed in his letter that he is very disappointed with the Catholic Church. He felt that the Church ignored the moral laws of the universe and did not care if black people felt unwelcomed or unloved by their community. The Church told the black community to “”wait”” but they knew that the word “”wait”” translated to “”never””. The way the Church abused their authority to treat black people did not turn away King from God’s preachings, it inspired him to work harder to change the Church and make it a better place for everyone to live their lives freely and every racial background was accepted.
Benedict’s third encyclical discussed how charity, truth, and love inspired people to strive for the common good for humanity. He says, “” Love – Caritas – is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the fields of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth”” (Benedict 5). Benedict throughout his teachings emphasized that every social doctrine, responsibility, and commitment of the Catholic Church is routed from God’s desire to spread charity amongst humanity. Benedict believed you cannot have charity without truth, he says, “”Truth preserves and expresses charity’s power to liberate in the ever-changing events of history… development, social well-being, and the search for a satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity, all need this truth”” (Benedict 7). Without the power of truth and trust, society would have no social conscience or responsibility which would make living an honest and pure life very difficult because there would be no moral laws to govern individuals. The concept of charity and love in society forces Christians to work hard to achieve justice and the common good.
Chapter Five of Benedict’s, Caritas in Veritate, is titled, The Cooperation of the Human Family, he explains that the deepest form of poverty a person can undergo is the feeling of isolation. He says, “ If we look closely at other kinds of poverty, including material forms, we see that they are born from isolation, from not being loved or from difficulties in being able to love” (Benedict 18). When an individual is isolated from their community they begin to develop feelings of loneliness, which may lead them to stop having faith in their foundation. In this chapter, Benedict explains the importance of the world coming together and living peacefully in one community. He says, “the development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side” (Benedict 18). He is saying that humanity needed to become more welcoming to other races, religions and social backgrounds but also remain cautious of others so their relationship with God would not change.
On April 4th, 1968 on the steps of a Motel in Tennessee Martin Luther King was fatally shot by gunman James Earl Ray. In 1963 when Letter from Birmingham Jail was published, King attempted to write and explain what segregation was like for black people. He wrote about what their experience is like to weird derogatory words from shop windows, and how white people will not understand the look of disappointment on a black child’s face when their parent tells them they cannot go to an amusement park because of the color of their skin. He wanted the white community of Birmington, Alabama and all the southern states to understand the emotional pain segregation had on people’s lives. King, like Pope Benedict, wanted unity amongst their church and community. Both King and Benedict stress in their documents that if society focused on being honest, truthful and loving others that everyone could live happily as one family and strive to live a good life for themselves and for the common good.”