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Essay: Martin Luther King Jr.'s letters from Birmingham Jail: the fight against injustice in the 1960s

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Tags: Martin Luther King Essays

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“Martin Luther King Jr.’s letters from Birmingham Jail”;

Martin Luther King Jr.’s letters from Birmingham Jail served to eliminate injustice during the 1960’s. His letter is a response to fellow white clergymen who failed to understand Dr. King’s fight. While King was serving jail time in Birmingham, Alabama, under the ridiculous reasoning of peacefully protesting without a permit, he wrote to counteract the criticism expressed by the clergymen. Dr. King’s argument was directed at the group of whom he believed shared the same ideology as him. King argues to draw in support from his fellow clergymen and calls for unification of all citizens. Only after this coalition is formed does Dr. King believe that justice must can be restored to black Americans. King desired to remove injustice from society. His method did not invoke violence and simply wished for justice. He explained why immediate action can not wait. Furthermore, why the white moderate needs to understand the urgency of such injustice. King saw segregation as a public issue that required all citizen’s support.

Martian Luther King believed in non-violent protest because other acts of reform had failed. After King was jailed he was able to respond to the clergymen. This letter is significant because it highlights King’s realization of the divide between the religious leaders. The clergymen do not understand his need for such public action and do not support his involvement. King argues that it is his obligation as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to protest alongside his brothers. Additionally, King had been invited by members of SCLC to carry out a peaceful protest to eliminate injustice in Birmingham. The clergymen insist for negotiation rather than “extremist” measures of protest. King writes in favor of negotiation, however, such efforts have been denied by the white majority.  His method of protest requires that his members go through self purification to eliminate all possible threats of violence. Kings protesters were prepared to face jail time in order to expand their message of desegregation.  In contrast, the clergymen see King’s protests as an obstruction of peace and one that invokes violence. King explains that such fathers ignore the violence inflicted on African-Americans and say nothing. Previous efforts for desegregation have ended with little to no improvement.  Direct action in the eyes of King is a crucial force to counteract segregation. Dr. King’s letter seeks to assure the clergymen of his peaceful intentions.

Additionally, one of the letter’s prime arguments is highlighting the inferior position of the African-American community. African-Americans were not held to the same regard as white citizens were. Even the clergymen were able to turn a blind eye while christians harmed christians. Not only were the clergymen not involved but they did not approve reform. King’s letter assures the clergymen of the legitimacy of their fight and seeks to invoke support of all citizens.

Martian Luther King is in favor of protest in order to create a tension that cannot be ignored by the white moderate. The white moderate is a crucial group that could greatly impact King’s movement. However, the moderate was not in favor of tension. They seemed to shy away from confrontation and would label any form of tension as extreme. However, King explains that all reform has come about through “extremists”. King appeals to the clergymen and argues that the ideas of Christ were once deemed extreme.  Dr. King did not regard his methods as extreme but wanted to appease the clergymen. King counteracted their criticism and argued that only through extremist ideas is reform is created.  The brave minority of the white moderate was in favor of reform and had contributed to the advancement of desegregation. However, many citizens were not in support of siding with the movement due to fear of backlash. Nonetheless, other whites argued that reform would come in time. King demanded that such amendment  cannot wait for is has been waiting for centuries. Desegregation had been infringing on the lives of black children. Segregation had caused the children to feel inferior. As injustice prevails it is only promoting resentment and hatred throughout the community. King writes to enlighten the clergymen of the repercussions of their injustice. King understood the imminent need for tension and was willing to sacrifice his freedom.

Additionally, King’s letter sought to abolish unjust laws inflicted upon the African-American community. Although King was in favor of abiding laws he opposed those that are unjust. He describes that an unjust law diverts from from natural law. Unjust  laws are rooted with unfair intentions. Such laws according to King must be broken. He then finds parallels between the unjust laws of the 1960’s and those of Europe during WWII. King argues that the laws created by the Nazi’s were legal and those who broke them were violating the law. This however, did not stop people from obtaining real justice. By drawing parallels King seeks to invoke a sense of embarrassment in the clergymen. How could men of god sit idly by and watch such magnitude if injustice prevail? King’s intent was to provoke the clergymen and to abolish the inferiority of the African-American community. Only with the support of the majority could African-American’s to obtain their natural rights.

Dr. King’s letter encompasses the need to abolish injustice everywhere through the means of community support. In my opinion, he is not only talking to the generation of that time but to all generations. He stresses that people cannot sit and watch discrimination happen. It is the responsibility of every person to be proactive in the face of injustice. This is crucial to prevent such horrors to prevail in future generations. The words of Martian Luther King speak for justice of all those who are oppressed. In my opinion, his works should be read in every educational institution. It is crucial to expose people to discrimination in order to prevent perpetual injustice.

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