Letter From Birmingham Jail Summary
This guide is based on the revised variation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Prison,” released as the fifth essay inWhy We Can’t Wait (1964 ). King’s letter is an action to another open letter, “A Require Unity,” published in The Birmingham News and collectively authored by eight Alabama clergymen who argued that the demonstrations were not a proper reaction to conditions in Birmingham. King opens the letter by discussing that he is reacting to their criticism that the demonstrations are”‘unwise and untimely'” (85) because he believes the clergymen to be genuine people of “genuine goodwill” (85 ).
King initially responds to the clergymen’s criticism that King is an outsider. According to King, he is in Birmingham because the Alabama Christian Motion for Human Rights (ACMHR), the local of affiliate of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLSC), welcomed him. King then highlights the example of early Christians like the Apostle Paul, who preached far from house, to make the point that King’s Christian duty requires him to come to Birmingham due to the fact that of the presence of injustice.
Ultimately,” [i] njustice anywhere is a hazard to justice everywhere,” according to King, so when it pertains to battling injustice, there is no such thing as an outsider in the U. S. (87 ). The clergymen’s objection to the demonstrations is regrettable since it fails to represent what resulted in the protests in the very first place. The decision to demonstration in Birmingham is the result of a four-stage procedure King and his peers followed: collecting realities, working out, self-purifying, and taking part in direct action. King provides evidence to show that they completed each step prior to continuing to the next.
Since they followed this process, the leaders of the protests understood their timing was right. King next responds to the question of whether direct action is preferable to negotiation by mentioning that” [n] onviolent direct action looks for to produce such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly declined to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (89 ). Far from being devastating, such stress is “positive, nonviolent tension that is essential for growth” (90 ). The choice of direct action was explicitly utilized to force the hands of those in power in Birmingham.
King likewise responds to the allegation that demonstrations were “unforeseen” (90) due to the fact that they did not give Mayor Albert Boutwell, the moderate segregationist who beat severe segregationist Bull Connor in the mayor’s election, an opportunity to demonstrate that he was ready to loosen up the segregationist regime in Birmingham. King counters this position by stating that in spite of his gentleness, Boutwell is still a segregationist who needs to be required to alter: “liberty is never willingly provided by the oppressor; it needs to be required by the oppressed” (90 ).
King offers many examples of the individual and political wrongs that have occurred while African-Americans awaited racial equality. Under the concern of such oppression, impatienceis reasonable. King next reacts to the clergymen’s issues about the protestors’ violation of laws by distinguishing between just and unfair laws. Just laws accord with moral law and need to be obeyed. Unjust laws violate God’s law and need to not be followed.
Segregationist laws are unfair laws that change the relationship between the oppressor and oppressedintoan “‘I-it” relationship that develops separation between people and transforms African-Americans into things. Laws can likewise be unjust in their application. King supplies the example of the law against parading as one that is unjust in application since it is explicitly applied to avoid the workout of complimentary speech. King then utilizes the resistance of early Christians and the Boston Tea Party as examples to develop that civil disobedience is an old and reputable reaction to unfair laws.
Refusing to comply with Hitler’s laws forbidding help to Jews or Communist laws that restrict religious liberty are 2 contemporary examples of such disobedience. Kingexpresses his disappointment in the inactiveness of white moderates, who fear disorder more than injustice and who believe they deserve to inform African-Americans to wait on their freedom. King compares segregation to a boil that can’t be cured “as long as it is covered” however that can be cured if it is “opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light” (98 ).
The clergymen’s accusation that even serene protests are incorrect because they “speed up violence” (98) is illogical and unethical, the equivalent of blaming Socrates or Jesus for the authorities’ function in their deaths. King follows these examples with a conversation of white moderates’ “terrible misconception of time” (99 ), which allows them to believe that equality will ultimately come as a matter of course.
King counters this argument by specifying that “time itself is neutral” which” [h] uman development […] comes through the determined efforts of guys willing to be colleagues with God, and without this hard work, time itself ends up being an ally of social stagnancy” (99 ). King thinks that this moment is for that reason the correct time to act. King likewise responds to the clergymen’s allegation that his actions are “‘severe'” (99 ). According to King, the African-American neighborhood consists of “a force of complacency [satisfaction or indifference] and another of “bitterness and hatred,” like the Nation of Islam (100 ). King’s goal is to moderate these 2 extremes through nonviolence.
Without this method, King believes “the streets of the South would […] be streaming with blood […] [and] a racial problem” (101 ). On further reflection, King moves to the position that he is thankful to be labeled an extremist. Jesus, the Old Testimony Prophets, the Apostle Paul, and Abraham Lincoln were all extremists for simply causes. Jesus was “an extremist for love, fact and goodness,” and could maybe work as an example of simply the sort of “imaginative extremist” the South and the U. S. need to conquer their injustice (103 ). The few white moderates who have acted by opposing are likewise such extremists and be worthy of praise.
King reveals eager frustration over the inaction of the white church on the problem of civil liberties. King applauds 2 of the ministers who made up the letter for their concrete actions toward equality in their churches however notes that throughout the Montgomery, Alabama, demonstrations, the white church management was dominated by “outright opponents” or those who “stayed silent” (104 ). The clergy in Birmingham have been equally disappointing, with some encouraging compliance with segregation from the pulpit, focusing on trivial details rather of the central problem of injustice, or elevating “otherworldly religious beliefs” over social concerns (105 ).
In looking over the churches of the South, King discovers himself wondering why they have been missing in action when federal government authorities supported partition and African-Americans rose up to protest. The modern church is “blemished and scarred […] through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists” (106 ). In early history, Christians “rejoiced at being considered worthy to suffer for what they thought,” and worried towns labeled them “‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators'” (107 ). Their desire to live out their morals “brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests” (107 ).
Modern Christians are “rchdefenders of the status quo” and offer cover for the power structure in numerous neighborhoods by standing by or opposing activism (107 ). The churches’ complicity threatens to their survival, competes King. They have actually already become increasingly irrelevant for youths. King muses that maybe his optimism in the power of churches to take part in change has been lost. Maybe arranged religion is only efficient in supporting the status quo and change can just come from “the inner spiritual church” (107 ). King keeps in mind that a few of his travel companions in the freedom marches are individuals from arranged religion.
King’s hope is that all organized religious beliefs will follow their example. Even if the churches stop working in this moral obligation, King is positive that the struggle for flexibility will be won “because the goal of America is liberty,” in spite of the longstanding oppression of African-Americans (108 ). African-Americans’ durability and determination in believing in freedom in spite of “the inexpressible cruelties of slavery” indicates that the present opposition will not win, either (108 ). The freedom struggle lines up with Christian morality and national values, King argues.
King’s final action is criticism of the clergymen’s appreciation of Birmingham police’s maintenance of order during the demonstrations. King states he doubts they would praise police if they had actually seen the violence versus protestors in the streets and prisons. King admits that police has actually been more disciplined this time however notes that they are still participating in actions that support immorality in the type of partition. Rather, the clergymen should have praised the actions of the protestors, who showed terrific guts and discipline by not striking back when assaulted.
These protestors, argues King, will one day be recognized as “defending what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred worths in our Judaeo-Christian [sic] heritage” (111 ). King apologizes for the long length of the letter. It was all he could do in a prison cell, he confesses. He likewise asks forgiveness for any flaws in the letter, or the letter’s arguments, and reveals a wish that one day he will be able to meet the clergymen “not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader, however as a fellow clergyman and Christian bro” (112 ). His final thought is a vision of a nation united in brotherhood, one free from prejudice” (112 ).