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Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail Heart-Felt Main Points

By kcavallucci May 09, 2013 1307 Words
Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail Heart-felt Main Points Martin Luther King was an extreme advocate of nonviolent protests in order to achieve social changes. He was the leader of nonviolent protests against segregation “Negros” and “Whites”. Unfortunately, his nonviolent protests to obtain equality between “Negros” and “Whites” were unsuccessful. Additionally, Birmingham City passed a stipulation prohibiting street marches without approval to do so. Therefore, King took action and began protesting for equality because he and his followers were displeased with this legislation. In reaction to the protest, King was arrested and “A Call for Unity” was published that day by clergymen criticizing King saying that the protest was “unwise and untimely.” While King was in jail, he addresses his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” to the clergymen explaining that what he was doing was the right thing and was at the right time. In his letter, he points out five main points: we are all interrelated, his nonviolent campaign, just laws versus unjust laws, nonviolent resistance, and the misconception of time.

Kings first point, the notion that we are all interrelated, defended the clergymen’s argument against “outsiders coming in.” He advises his audience to take into account that what happens to “Negros” has an effect on them, even if they don’t realize it. King states that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (204). These quotes can be summarized by saying that there shouldn’t be any “outsiders” in the United States; all Americans should work together without regard to skin color. Michael Leff sums up those quotes by saying, “Thus, King should not be regarded as an outsider; his presence in Birmingham is both appropriate and right” (5).

Secondly, King explains his four steps for change all through a nonviolent campaign. The first step is “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive” (204). This means collect evidence to figure out whether or not a crime has been committed; and if injustice has been made, be certain on who or what is to blame for it. The second step in his nonviolent campaign is negotiation. This is the action of finding a middle ground between two individuals or groups. At this point, a solution may be worked out, however, if no solution is established, the opponent should know that there will be a firm position to make sure justice is determined. The third step is self-purification, which is getting rid of anger, selfishness, and violent attitudes from the heart in order to prepare for a nonviolent fight. Once this step is accomplished, the fourth step, direct action, can be organized. Direct action can include sit-ins, strikes, marches, and/or protests.

King goes on to explain just laws versus unjust laws as his third point. Just laws are laws that promote people’s rights and that allow people to live their life fuller and happier. He explains that “any law that uplifts human personality” (208) is a just law. On the other hand, he says that “a law is unjust if a minority group is forced to obey but didn’t help enact, or if they majority doesn’t have to follow it, or if it is unfairly applied in practice” (208). In other words, unjust laws, like segregation, don’t protect fundamental, God-given rights. Next, King helps his audience understand why he uses nonviolent, direct action to fight for justice. The clergymen ask “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches… Isn’t negotiation better?” King goes on and explains, “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” (205). For example, picketing causes tension in a community that forces people to confront the issue, without using any form of violence. King was someone to seek justice through nonviolent direct action because he explains that he has seen mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters kicked, brutalized, and killed with impunity. King’s last point is the misconception of time. The clergymen who wrote “A Call for Unity” argued that civil rights needed to wait for a “more convenient season.” King disagrees and states, Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right (210). In simple terms, this quote means that human progress doesn’t come about without hard work. King also explains that it’s difficult to wait because he has seen vicious mobs and policemen murder mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters at will. He also finds it hard to wait for a “more convenient season” because he finds himself lost at words when his six-year-old daughter asks why she can’t go to a public amusement park that was advertised on the television; he has to witness her tears when he has to tell her that the amusement park doesn’t welcome colored children, or when he has to make up an answer for a five-year-old son who asks, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?” (207) He also finds it hard to wait for a “more convenient season” because he goes day in and day out having to see signs to read “white” and “colored” men; and that colored people’s first name become “nigger” and his middle name become “boy,” regardless of their age. King says, “When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait” (207). This explanation of why it’s difficult to wait for a “more convenient season” goes on with a sentence with 331 words, making it the longest and most heart-felt sentence in the text. He wants his readers to feel his pain. Leff summarizes his long sentence by explaining, The white readers, who have never directly suffered from the ‘stinging darts of segregation,’ must wait while this long list of grievances continues to assault their sensibilities, and so they vicariously experience the frustration of the African American. The sentence enacts the transmits that experience in a way that no propositional argument could accomplish” (6). King explains that African Americans have already had to wait for 340 years for their rights, and it’s no wonder that they are becoming impatient. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter… (206).

Therefore, Kings arguments toward the clergymen’s “A Call for Unity” explains that what he was doing was the right this and was at the right time; and in order to accomplish his stand point, he addresses his five main points that we are all interrelated, his nonviolent campaign, just laws versus unjust laws, nonviolent resistance, and the misconception of time.

Words: 1,220

Works Cited
King Jr. Luther, Martin "Letter from Birmingham City Jail." Reading the World: Ideas That Matter. By Michael Austin. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2010. 202-17. Print. Leff, Michael. "Instrumental and Constitutive Rhetoric in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from

Birmingham Jail"." Rhetoric and Public Affairs 7.1 (2004): 37-51. Print.

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