‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’: Unveiling the Battle against Racism

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Updated: Sep 11, 2023
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In the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. was written from a jail cell responding to religious leaders’ criticism about the Birmingham Campaign. Martin Luther King Jr. uses a spiritual symbol of Apostle Paul and demonstrates the body as a battle field for civil rights.

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While using the theme of racism which occurred throughout the South during the civil rights era. In this essay I will use textual evidence supporting the theme of racism, the use of Apostle Paul as a spiritual symbol, and the body being used as a field of battle for civil rights.

Throughout Martin Luther King’s letter he introduces the concept of injustice racism in the city of Birmingham. He addresses the concerns his critics have about the appearance of “outsiders” within their city, which is the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. However, Martin was invited by the African American residents from Birmingham because they needed assistance with organizing a nonviolent direct-action campaign fighting injustice racism. Martin goes into detail stating the steps they need to fulfill in order to go through with the campaign. “We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham … Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States,” (King Jr. 1). Birmingham meet all the requirements to go through with the campaign allowing Martin to bring forth all the injustices the police bring upon the African American community. The police department was the most racist “organization” within Birmingham because they treated African Americans unfairly compared to the White citizens of the city. They had the ugliest record of police brutality throughout the country and it was known in every section of the country. The police department had the most unsolved cases of bombings within African American homes and churches, and the unjust treatment of Negros in court was a major reality in Birmingham.

“This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing Thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights,” (King Jr. 2). He believes time is the major issue here from an African Americans perceptive because they were never given their civil rights. African Americans never had rights the moment they were striped from their homes to come to America and work for white people. Yes, slavery was abolished, but it didn’t change the views of African Americans through the eyes of white people. Blacks were unclean and naïve. Therefore, White people didn’t want to associate with them causing segregation almost everywhere in the country.

This textual evidence which I have provided for you displays the theme of racism that occurred in the South during the civil rights era. The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is an in-depth evaluation of racism that is entrenched on America. It establishes methods on how Blacks were degraded and dehumanized with segregation and racism, but he does combat dehumanization with many personal ideas on how racism has effects on the African American psyche. Martin also establishes the only way to bring change is through a nonviolent fashion with integrity to act now.

Martin’s work within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference can be used as a spiritual symbol of Apostle Paul. Martin was an “outsider” to his critics who had come to cause trouble in Birmingham with his civil rights protests; therefore, Martin compares himself to Apostle Paul because he obliged to travel the world to enlighten others. He compared himself to this Apostle due to the fact of him spreading an unpopular truth just like Paul when he traveled beyond his homeland to spread the word of the Lord. “Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, 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 own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid,” (King Jr. 1). The comparison between Martin and Paul has a very personal meaning to it as he sees Paul as a spiritual guide, and it contributes to a method of fighting for racial equality by spreading the word of the Lord.

Throughout the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin demonstrates the body to be a field of battle for civil rights. He introduces their physical act of protest where he states their leaders have prepared protestors for a direct-action protest. “We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “are you able to accept the blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?” … You may well ask, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue,” (King Jr. 2). Most of these protestors who are involved in the protest know its not a war of words but a battle that can cause harm to their bodies. Martin states a metaphor about the relationship between the body and soul, “In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues with which the Gospel has no real concern,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular,” (King Jr. 5). However, Martin thought of it in a different way to where the body houses the soul and if any harm was done to the body of the protestor it would cause spiritual damage. The metaphorical demonstrations of the protestors bodies, the African American community social body, and the spiritual body of the church all consume the damage of racist segregation.

In conclusion, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” demonstrates the theme of racism, the spiritual symbol of Apostle Paul, and the body being used as a field of battle for civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the letter to call attention to the racial injustices in the city of Birmingham and provide the information on their nonviolent direct-action protest.

Worked Cited Page

  1. King Jr, Martin Luther. Teaching American History”
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'Letter from Birmingham Jail': Unveiling the Battle Against Racism. (2021, Jul 05). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/letter-from-birmingham-jail-unveiling-the-battle-against-racism/