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Martin Luther King
Injustice anywhere is a threat to
justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable
Letter from Birmingham jail
Below are some of my notes from my first reading of this letter.
Here is a link to the full letter http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/kingweb/popular_requests/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf
Other EQI.org Topics:
|Here is a quote I disagree
with... I explain why below
To me, this just doesn't seem as practical as working
from outside of a jail to educate and inform people.
|Here is a quote which shows King
believed in the use of punishment, at least when he wrote
Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
King also divides people into good and bad:
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
|I searched the letter for
"feel" -- I found just 4 uses of the word...
King says ...
1. But since I feel that you are
2. ...if we feel that...
3. .... I feel that....
4..... I feel impelled to mention...
I also searched for anything contatining "emotion" and I found just 1 occurrence:
If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a
threat but a fact of history.
|Here is a quote I lke. He talks about
cause and effect - one of my primary interests in looking
at teen depression and suicide:
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to
say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes
|He also writes something which reminds
me of the laws which discriminate against people under a
certain age, usually 18 in most countries now:
We could substitute "segregation statutes" with "age discrimination laws"....
All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.
It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.
The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation ...that ...will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
|Here is another quote which we could use
to help us understand what is wrong with laws,
Let us consider a more concrete example of just
and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a
numerical or power majority group compels a minori
ty group to obey but do
es not make binding on
itself. This is difference made legal. By the same to
ken, a just law is a code that a majority compels a
minority to follow and that it is willing to
follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if
it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of
being denied the right to vote, had no part in en
acting or devising the law. Who can say that the
legislature of Alabama which set up that state'
s segregation laws was democratically elected?
Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious method
s are used to prevent Negroes from becoming
registered voters, and there are some counties in wh
ich, even though Negroes constitute a majority of
the population, not a single Negro is registered.
Can any law enacted under such circumstances be
considered democratically structured?
I would add that sometimes a minority of people, let's call them the elite for simplicity, create laws which they themselves do not follow.
As King explains with blacks, we could say that children and teenagers are also subject to laws they had no participation in and which are not enforced upon others called adults. "Adults" for example, are not forced to spend many hours doing work without pay - in other words doing school work.
|Another quote we could apply to children
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything
the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in
You may know it is illegal, in all countries I am aware of, to provide aid and comfort to a "runaway" child or teen, in the form of offering them a safe place to live. They are treated like property and must be returned to their "owners" - the parents - or put in jail. If you let a frightened, emotionally abused child or teenager live safely in your home, you can be put in jail yourself In all countries I know of.
|note from Steve - I first learned about
this letter on this page
Here is a back up copy of their article
On April 3, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15,
1929April 4, 1968) began coordinating a series of
sit-ins and nonviolent demonstrations against racial
injustice in Birmingham, Alabama. On April 12, he was
violently arrested on the charge of parading without a
permit, per an injunction against parading,
demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and
picketing that a local circuit judge had issued two
days earlier, a week into the protests.