December 11th, 2012
In this essay, I will discuss the superiority of Natural Law as it applies to proper civil disobedience through an examination of Martin Luther King’s “ Letter From Birmingham Jail” as it applies to Sophocles’ Antigone. Through King’s use of distinguishing between just and unjust law, engaging in dialogue and negotiations, and ensuring self-purifications, its is clear that Antigone’s disobedience to Creon is justified as prescribed by the “Letter”.
In reading Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” you see a clear definition and justification for defying open socially established laws. MLK was writing to his fellow clergymen to explain his reasoning for breaking the said “law”. King was confined after being arrested for his involvement with the Birmingham Campaign, a planned nonviolent protest conducted by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference against racial segregation by Birmingham's city government and downtown retailers. Throughout the letter, King tries to make his point clear that he meant no harm. He and his fellow protesters were simply taking a stand against segregation by using a nonviolent campaign. King goes on to describe the four basic steps to a nonviolent campaign: collection of facts, negotiation, self-purification and direct action. It was common knowledge that Birmingham, Alabama was one of the most racially segregated cities in America in the early 1960s. For years in this city, there had been so much injustice toward the black community. Birmingham had become a poster child for hate crimes during one of the most socially volatile periods in our nation’s history. Bombings of homes and churches, along with other acts of violence against Birmingham's colored citizens, were met with a blind eye by law enforcement. These facts were well known throughout the country, and definitely not taken lightly by other American citizens of color. Prevalent members of the Negro community tried to engage in negotiations with Birmingham”s white city leaders to no avail. Even with factual evidence of the continuous injustices facing people of color in Birmingham, they were not taken seriously, until eventually a window of opportunity arose for Negro leaders to negotiate with the leaders of Birmingham's”s economic community. Finally, they were making some progress in their nonviolent campaign. The city’s business owners agreed to remove humiliating racial signs from their stores, as long as the black community would cease their demonstrations. The negotiations were in vain; the agreements were not upheld by Birmingham’s merchants. It was after this failed communication that King, among others, realized they would have to prepare for direct action. This preparation is defined by King as self-purification. Self-purification is a difficult process, but necessary for the success of direct action. It was the process that the black protesters would go through in order to prepare themselves for the consequences of their protest. They would have to soul-search and ask themselves if they were prepared to endure physical violence without retaliating, and brace themselves for the real possibility of jail. The stakes were this high because the tension in Birmingham would rise during the sit-ins and demonstrations that were to follow. According to King, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” King repeatedly points out throughout his letter that this nonviolent program is just that - nonviolent. He was insistent that he and his fellow protesters should not break any just laws in the process of protesting an unjust one. It is clear through the letter...
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