Social Injustice – Moral and Political History

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The idea of social injustice has attracted more attention than any other single concept in moral and political history. Social injustices are situations in which a person, or group of people, is treated unfairly due to certain factors like discrimination, prejudice, sexism, and so on. Everyday countless people, especially minority groups in America, experience inequality and severe punishment due to the color of their skin; their race. The concept of race has become so broad that it displays an intricate definition.

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From a biological standpoint to a more superficial interpretation, race has become more of a perception; one that people separate based on certain traits and guidelines they believe to “fit” into a category.

Many activists like Mandela and Gandhi have engaged in civil disobedience as a main tactic for becoming voices of human rights. However, power struggles and social stratifications have made these actions little more than a never ending attempt. This issue was more prevalent in the 1960s, the defining years of the civil rights movement, when segregation was part of everyday life. One of the focal points for such movements was Birmingham, Alabama. During the 1960s, this was a commonplace to violence against African Americans, specifically in regards to white supremacist groups, or the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). For many years, social injustices in Birmingham have ranged from minor racial slurs to overt violence and abuse. Because of this, it is easy to see why Dr Martin Luther King, a reverend African American activist, participated in various non-violent campaigns to be a voice for the black minority population.

In April 1963, he, along with many others were incarcerated in the Birmingham city jail for participating in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation. In his well known “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King responds to the eight white clergymen of the South who had written an open letter, “A Call For Unity” criticising his demonstrations and other marches. In addition, they felt that these demonstrations were “unwise and untimely;” (King par 1) trying to quiet African American protesters and urging them to “wait” before taking further action against segregation and injustice.

Although there are many reasons in which King calls for nonviolent actions, he stresses on four main points for any nonviolent campaign. He states that “collection of facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification and direct action” (King par 6) are necessarily when one is fighting for such a cause. For King, he believes that before other things are considered, it is important to recognize that social discrimination “engulfs [the Birmingham] community” (King par 6). The African American community has long struggled for freedom and the racial injustice taking place not only affects one individual but “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (King par 4). King alludes to the Apostle Paul, comparing himself to a prophet, one who travelled “far beyond the boundaries of their hometown” (King, par 2) spreading the gospel of Jesus. Like Paul, he too, should not be considered an “outsider coming in” (King par 2) to where injustice is present but rather he is “compelled to carry the gospel of freedom” (King para 3) beyond his particular hometown. He believes that the clergymen have erred in criticising the protestators without equally and fully taking into consideration the racist causes that “brought the demonstrations into being” (King par 5). The black community have waited long enough in attempt to live in “monologue rather than dialogue” (King par 10). This highlights the never ending effort to fix the issue of segregation.

Throughout the letter, king demonstrates his ability to employ deductive reasoning with the usage of various rhetorical strategies like Aristotle’s appeals and many allusions, enabling his readers to take a stand against unfounded persecution as well as convey a basic message that injustice and change cannot succeed if those who fight for justice are not willing to suffer or defend for it. King goes on from there to stress that there is a difference between just and unjust laws, claiming that an unjust law is “any law that degrades human personality,” (King par 14) like that of segregation. He uses pathos, appealing to the clergymen and taking them into the lives of everyday African Americans, making them feel the struggles they undergo.

King furthers his claim to state that “it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait” so for that reason negotiation seems to be the key concept of peaceful civil resistance but it is necessary, as a last resort to use direct action. He states that the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) have made attempts to negotiate with the leaders of the economic community but these previous attempts have failed, so the African American community was left with “no other alternative except that of preparing for direct action” (King par 7). He understands that the clergymen value negotiation over protest, but he uses hyperbole to exaggerate on the African American hopes being let down consistently with the idea of “wait” that they became “victims of a broken promise” (King para 7).

In this, King explains that negotiation cannot happen without protest. In order for any change to happen, action and pressure are needed and are necessary to promote change. Overall, this letter was effective in that it persuaded the audience of the necessity to rise to action and informed the clergymen of why such demonstrations were taking place and why they will continue to happen in efforts to end the issue of segregation. However, while he refutes criticisms made by the clergymen, he does have a few assumptions that could weaken his argument. One of the major assumptions were the belief that Christians and other religious leaders would agree with him simply because they are Christians. He claims that all Christian have the same level of conviction that he does in that they cannot “stand on the sidelines” (King par 31) and watch injustice happen to their brothers and sisters. This makes King sound objective and opinionated because a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ. Claiming this does not mean that every other Christian will have the same beliefs as their peers. King however, makes up for these holes in his argument by appealing to the pathos of his audience and placing the audience in situations they can understand, convincing them that nonviolent direct action is needed to further the efforts of the civil rights movement.

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Social Injustice - Moral and Political History. (2021, Mar 20). Retrieved from