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Free King's Letter from Birmingham Jail Essay Sample

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It is a letter written by Martin Luther King Jr and is addressed to his fellow clergymen. He is in jail at the moment of drafting the letter and it is apparently in response some criticism he had received from them for activities he had been involved in that the clergy thought were unwise and untimely. King together with others had marched in downtown Birmingham to protest about the discriminative laws that upheld segregation in the country. This therefore was a bid to provide inspiration and justify why it was necessary and urgent to continue the struggle for racial equality.

In the letter, King asserts that civil disobedience was justified and even goes further to say that one had a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. He claimed that he had been invited by a local affiliate Christian group in Birmingham and that his presence there was simply because he had answered a call to come and participate in the non-violent demonstration. He alludes his presence in Birmingham to that of prophets in the early centuries who would travel great distances to fight for different any given cause they strongly believed in. He also notes the nature and interrelatedness of the communities in his hometown Atlanta and Birmingham. After all 'injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere', as he claimed


He then goes further to express his disappointment in the clergy's position that does not seem to empathize with what the black community is going through. He thinks that they are not cognizant of the underlying issues that led to the demonstrations in Birmingham but rather the aftermath of the demonstrations. He believes that nonviolent demonstrations would create a crisis that would foster some tension that would coerce the community to address issues that they were initially reluctant to. This was the resultant of the various steps that he suggests should be followed in any nonviolent campaigns. This is the last step when it has been clearly established that injustices do exist and that any form of dialogue or negotiation has not yielded any fruit.

Given this fact that there was probably the worst racial injustice in Birmingham and that negotiation had stalled, King therefore justifies the need for nonviolent demonstration in the town. An example of this concerns the racial signs that had not been pulled down by merchants in the town despite earlier agreements to do so. He also recognizes the dangers they were putting their bodies into and that they had gone through a self-purification believing that it was only through this process that they would be able to paralyze the economic fabric of the merchants that were perpetrating racist activities in the town.

King goes ahead to say that even the new administration that had taken charge in Birmingham through mayoral election was in need of constant pressure so that they would make desegregation a priority in their policy formulation in the town. According to his words 'freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor but rather demanded by the oppressed'. He therefore thought that this (nonviolent action) was very timely as they on many occasions postponed the call for racial equality.

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He then breaks down in an emotional and vivid illustration of how black people had been mistreated by the society through segregation and violence. He talks about a simmering hate from policemen as well as poverty that had engulfed the black community even though they lived amongst affluent white neighborhoods.  He talks of how he is at pains to explain to young children what was going on and why most amenities and facilities weren't accessible to them. He claims that this becomes seminal for the development of hatred towards the white society at a very early age.

King then does well in trying to differentiate what a just and unjust law is in some cases referring to scholars had saying earlier about it e.g. St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and others. He says that an unjust law is one that compels a particular and often minority group to obey it but does not make the law binding to everyone. A law could also be just on the face but due to wrong application makes it unjust. He gives an example of the several times he had arrested for illegal parading.

In the letter, King Luther Jr also expresses some resentment for the positions taken by the white moderates even more than the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen's Councilor. He terms the moderates lukewarm stand as negative peace, which refers to having relative calm and no tension rather than the justice prevailing. He hopes that the moderate white would understand that it is only by exposure of the underlying tension in the society that justice system would be corrected.

In as much as he agrees that their actions of nonviolent demonstrations should be condemned, King believes that they are justified it was wrong for anyone to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because what he does might lead to violence. King also believes that even though his actions can be deemed to be extremist, he actually is in the middle of two groups of the Negro community. One that has faced long periods of oppression and somehow have adjusted and gotten inured to it and a different group that is more liberal and is enlightened as regard s to their rights and role in the society. He therefore does not believe that his position is extremist in any way but rather a more subtle and middle ground between the two.

He therefore strongly revokes complacency as well as despair from a section of the back community and is grateful that the Negro community has made nonviolence a central aspect of their struggle for racial equality. He compares their struggle to that in Africa and Asia where the communities have been emancipated ideologically and had sought an urgent means of attaining their rights. He believes that this oppression cannot however go on forever and that there will come a time they will get to the promised land of racial justice in the country.

In a slight twist to his earlier disgust as being labeled an extremist, king suddenly changes tone and   says that as long as the course he is fighting for is true and justified he did not mind being called one. He compares himself to Jesus, Paul and the Biblical Amos who all fought for what they believed in with no fear and moderation at all. An example is Jesus who he calls an 'extremist for love', and therefore rose above the environment he lived in and was none like the rest.

King also takes a swipe at the church leadership on how they had done very little to fight for racial rights and equality. He is greatly disappointed that despite his optimism that the white church would join in this quest for justice, they had actually done very little to this course. He however notes some exceptions and commends them for their effort e.g. the Catholic Church for integrating the spring Hill College some years before.  He believes that he is not complaining about the church as an outsider, But rather as a minister himself and someone who had been brought up in the beliefs and teachings of the church.

He strongly believes betrayed by the white church ilk: the white ministers, priests and rabbis and regrets that some have even come outright as opponents of the fight for freedom. Despite this he once again comes to Birmingham with a renewed hope that maybe that time the white clergy would see the justice in the cause they sought and therefore become a channel through which their grievances would be addressed. This however was not to be according to him. The church had become very different from the historical times when it would suffer for what they believed in rather than seem to obey man in what was unjust. It had become weak and had an ineffectual voice thus seemed to be in support of the status quo.

He goes on to warn the church that if it would not voice their concern for oppression and renew the sacrificial spirit that was alive in the early church, it would lose its authenticity and become just a social club with no real meaning for the twentieth century. He was disgusted by the ever increasing discontent from people who believed that the church was not doing enough to intervene in the struggle for rights of the coloreds.

Despite all this, King believes that the in the end justice will prevail and racial equality will be realized. This would happen with or without help from the church and that. He sounds optimistic and visionary about the realization of freedom comparing it to the struggles their forefathers had endured before they secured their independence. He also believes that God will aid in their push for reforms and His will is embodied in their demands for justice.

I conclusion, King angrily detests the clergy's step to so kindly thank the Birmingham Police department. He gives a picture of how they inhumanely treated the nonviolent demonstrators, intimidating them with dogs as well as ruffling up various women and youth. He also cites occasions when the police refused to give them food because they wanted to sing the grace together.

Therefore, it is wrong for anyone to use nonviolent means to perpetuate an unjust system in the society. He ends the letter in a rather contemplative and sanguine mood, stating that one day the south would come to realize real justice and equality. He offers the clergy a hand of reconciliation and hope they will have a change in heart about their stand as regards to the fight for freedom is concerned.

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