Martin Luther King – Letter from Birmingham Jail
Letter from Birmingham Jail
In April of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama, after defying a state court’s injunction criminalizing public demonstrations against segregation. King led protests without a permit targeting an Easter boycott of White-owned businesses. A statement issued by eight moderate White clergymen condemned the protest as unwise and untimely. This criticism compelled King to write a letter in longhand answering the claims of the clergy. In the letter, King argued emphatically for the need of constructive nonviolent tension to push for the eradication of unjust laws. The letter would become a landmark document of the civil rights movement.
King’s article revolves entirely around the implementation of segregationist laws especially in the southern states of the US. The author’s imprisonment came at a time during which the US had made significant steps towards the indiscriminate preservation of human rights. With the end of slavery following the defeat of the Confederacy to the South other developments rolled out including enfranchisement and gradual integration of schools in different states. Indeed, in his letter, King lauded the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 that illegalized segregation in public schools. Notwithstanding, the nation was still far from achieving equality in the strictest sense of the word. King particularly complained about the outright inequality in commercial stores, the brutalization of Blacks and people of color by the police with express impunity, and the denial of voting rights in various states despite the unconstitutionality of this practice. Unfortunately, even dialogue itself had failed to resolve the crisis of inequality on many occasions and laws were made by the White majority and imposed upon the Black minority. King related an account of betrayal by White merchants who had promised to remove the humiliating racial signs from commercial stores as an initial step to promote integration. Evidently, King made a strong case against negotiations on the basis of such betrayal.
King argued that nonviolent direct-action involving sit-ins and marches was the only appropriate mechanism through which segregation would be fought. He demonstrated a concrete understanding of the White’s callousness since they were not the ones on the receiving end of the injustices about which he complained. It was, therefore, possible for the Whites to urge Blacks to wait until time could heal the evils of inequality in American society. However, King labeled time as a neutral factor and as such, an ally of the social forces of stagnation whenever humans abdicate their responsibility to act necessarily to stem social upheavals. Having subordinated the healing notion of time to the gravity of segregation, King exposed the criticality of change in both perspective and practice.
King appealed to logic and emotions from religious and legal viewpoints to demonize segregation. He distinguished between just and unjust laws classifying segregation under the latter group. King understood just laws as “”man-made”” codes that conform to the moral law – God’s law. Contrarily, unjust laws are those that violate the natural law. Segregation, for instance, is an artificial code that violates both the God-given and constitutional right of freedom. In principal, segregationists lean towards objectification and hence relegate humanity to the status of things. From this perspective, Blacks are objects that the White can study, judge, penalize, and control. To King, it is the obligation of every person of moral dignity to defy unjust laws through such approaches as nonviolent direct action. Surprisingly, the author observed that even the church had deviated from its religious duty of molding society by instilling the values that respect humanity as a sacred creation of God.
King’s views have been the subject of widespread attention the world over. The segregationist perspective of the nineteenth- and the twentieth-century world was based on the subjective ideology of essentialists who regard human differences as rooted in the biological architecture of the human body. To the segregationist, Blacks are inherently and inevitably inferior to their White counterparts and this difference is ineradicable. The White majority, therefore, assumes that it is their role to dominate the minority groups to the extent of safeguarding the institution of slavery. Notwithstanding this absurd perspective, both philosophy and science rebut essentialism exposing the sheer lack of objectivity in its supporting principles and arguments.
King’s cause of justice is legitimate and grounded on credible evidence regarding the goal of humanity. Any human being is born with the need to be happy and to be appreciated from the smallest circles of society to the entire world. From a religious point of view, it is not the place of humans to question God’s decision to allow diversity in the world. Moreover, there is more evidence of the advantages of human diversity than any disadvantage that issues forth from the phenomenon. There is the artist who delivers remarkable forms of entertainment and the physician who treats the suffering. None of these individuals can substitute the other with perfect outcomes and neither of their services or skills is entirely expendable. Black or White, each one is gifted differently, and their diversity adds to the beauty and immense potential of humanity to elevate human standards in society. It is therefore not in the authority of the privileged White, as it were in King’s argument to downgrade their Black counterparts to the status of controllable objects.”
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Martin Luther King - Letter from Birmingham Jail. (2021, Apr 08). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/martin-luther-king-letter-from-birmingham-jail/
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