Mlk Letter from Birmingham Essay

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Mlk Letter from Birmingham Essay

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Martin Luther King Jr. was the acknowledged leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. King earned several degrees and was a bright man. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written in April 1963, while he was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama, for acts of civil disobedience (499). His letter is a response to a letter signed by clergyman criticizing his actions towards civil rights. The clergymen believed that his actions were “untimely.” King states ,”if I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk…I would have no time for constructive work” (500). He usually does not respond to letter that criticize his work and actions, but he believed the clergymen were men of genuine good and they meant no harm. King was president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and they had affiliates all throughout the South. King believed he was supposed to spread freedom. He agreed that if Birmingham ever needed him that he would be there.

“Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (500). King used an approach to resolve issues in nonviolent manners. It consisted of sit-ins, marches, and etc. Nonviolent direct action would create a tension that an otherwise ignored subject would have to be faced. With nonviolent direct action and ignored issue would come to light and can no longer be ignored(502). After the direct-action program, King hoped that the doors to negotiation would open. King states that African Americans have waited 340 years for their rights and that to the people not being segregated the word “wait” is easy for them to say. King talks about the endless perils Africans go through, from disrespect to death, and states why they can no longer “wait” (504). King talks about how the nation is immoral and unjust and that he must take action.

He was arrested for parading without a permit and his arrest was immoral because citizens were denied the First amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest. The clergymen labeled King’s actions as extreme. King addressed the accusation that the civil rights movement was “extreme”, first disputing the label but then accepting it. He argues that Jesus and other heroes were extremists and writes: “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?” (509-510). King is strong in his beliefs and hopes freedom comes to African Americans. “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail” (513).


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is a look into the reality of racial inequality in 1960s America. King writes this letter to fellow clergymen and aims to address their concerns regarding the wisdom and timing of the nonviolent direct-action demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama that King and other leaders orchestrated and carried out in 1963. The clergymen were incorrect with their views on King’s efforts. He wanted to earn freedom for all African Americans throughout the nation. He believed that a nonviolent direct-action program would be the most effective way of earning rights. “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crises and foster such a tension that community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (502). King believed that eventually the issue had to be dealt with and he was right. The clergymen believed that King was precipitating violence but King replied with, “We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive” (507).

King related the clergymen’s accusations to condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery (507). He was not getting help elsewhere, so King had to take matter in his own hands. “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church.” (512). The Church did not offer as much help as King needed. Churches also do not possess the power that they use to. “Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound”(512). Without the help elsewhere, King was right in demonstrating that nonviolent direct-action would accomplish his goals.

The clergymen called his actions “untimely” when in fact King chose a great time to take action. King stated they had waited for more than 340 years for their rights and that the word “wait’ usually meant “never” (530). The laws against African Americans were immoral and unjust. King was arrested for parading without a permit and that was why he was in Birmingham Jail. This was unjust because he was exercising his right for the First Amendment of peaceful assembly and protest. At this time period, if it were a white man, he would not have gone to jail. King was correct in his thinking and all the actions he took. Without King’s efforts, America would not be the great country it is.

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