Birmingham Jail essay
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Martin Luther King Jr. was a black American citizen of the 18th century who was actively involved in fighting for the rights of the blacks, during the Civil Rights Movement. He devoted most of his time serving in the church. The Church was also in the forefront in advocating for an end of the black discrimination. On April 1963, Martin Luther King was jailed in Birmingham (Kirk, 2005). This imprisonment was caused by a peaceful demonstration against discrimination of the black American citizens. The demonstration used peaceful tactics, such as sit-ins in unrestricted places, and marches (Kirk, 2005). Since King was a clergyman, he had a deep respect for other church men; however, after his arrest, some white clergymen from Alabama published an article, known as “A Call for Unity”, in which they condemned King’s tactics in fighting against white segregation in Birmingham (Luther, 1963). In the article, the church men approved that white segregation did exist in Alabama; but they also indicated that the fight against the black discrimination was best suited for the courts rather than the streets. They condemned King, and called him a stranger who had no right to meddle in the affairs of Alabama. It is to these allegations that King took the initiative to specify why he used his tactics in dealing with discrimination against the black population not only in Birmingham but also in other states of America (Luther, 1963).
The name of Martin Luther King is associated with the civil rights movement in the United States of America, and his contribution may be regarded as the greatest contribution to the American history by a single individual of black origin. He was an outspoken leader in fighting for the rights of the blacks; but he stood out because unlike other activists, he did not tolerate society where the blacks were discriminated, he dreamt about the society where there was equality and a deep respect for rights of every human. He served in the Freedom Ride Coordination Committee as the chairman. This means that he was in the middle of the activism related issues in the society (Kirk, 2005).The public sit-ins were among the most pronounced steps; they were carried out in various cities as a sign of the black rebellion against oppression. One of these sit-ins was responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of Martin Luther King. The sit-ins were meant to pressure the government to cancel the infamous segregation laws. Martin Luther was jailed after calling for more mass action following clashes between black protesters and police officers in Albany. King was, however, only given a suspended sentence (Kirk, 2005). In 1963, he would face a proper jail term for his campaign to recruit willing individuals to join his power fighting for liberation of the black people through non-violence means. In short, he was jailed for being the torch-bearer in the fight for liberation of the black men in America. The main reason behind the arrest of the black leader was that he did not have a legal permit to take part in the demonstrations he was organizing and leading (Kirk, 2005).
During his period in jail, Martin Luther King authored the famous Letter from a Birmingham. This was an open letter that was a reply to his fellow clergy men who had made a move to denounce him, after he had been confined to the gallows. In the letter, he voices, ‘If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence……But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth…..I want to answer your statement.’ (Luther, 1963). This was a message the clergy who used to be his allies, but who later sought to distance themselves from his course and his methods in the wake of his imprisonment. The letter was published in the local dailies in order to make sure that his message did not only reach his critics, but also his supporters, and the general public. This was a brave move considering that the government at the time was trying hard to gag him (Luther, 1963).
The reasons behind why Luther broke the law, and finally ended up in the gallows are a mix up of the current affairs prevailing at the time in the United States of America, and the laws that were in force. Despite the fact that the demonstrations organized and attended by King were lacking any form of violence, the police still used unnecessary force to disperse the crowds that were gathering on the streets. This means that the law and the force were used depending on who was on strike (Luther, 1963). The police (government) denied Luther, and his supporters (individuals and organizations) with the permeation that were necessary if one was willing to hold a legally sanctioned political rally in the United States at the time. This meant that if King really wanted to spread his messages and exert pressure on the government, he had to break the law. He did this by holding sit-ins even without permeations; this resulted in his imprisonment and arrest of many activists and protesters. Thus, it is safe to conclude that breaking the law was necessary, to liberate the black population in America (Luther, 1963).
In his letter, King mentioned a number of historical characters, who influenced him and his actions greatly. To start with, he mentioned prophets who lived in the 8th century B.C., who departed their homes, and went to distant towns for the mission of working for the freedom of the enslaved and innocent people. King also describes the influence he had received from the Apostle Paul, who also left his home in order to save the lives of suffering individuals. Another great influence on King was made by Reinhold Niebuhr, from whom King learnt that it was better to prepare demonstrations in groups than individually, since groups tended to assert more pressure than individuals. Socrates also influenced King greatly (Luther, 1963). He notes that it was Socrates who taught him to utilize the idea of tension of the mind so that individuals could eventually influence the issues surrounding them. In his letter, King also declares that Socrates was a man who sought, told the truth, and made enquiries about the authorities. It is for this reason that the misguided individuals around him gave him hemlock to consume. He also compared himself to Jesus, whose dedication to the truth made the leaders of his time hate him, and they eventually crucified him without knowing the fact that his work was that of God. He was also influenced by other members of the early church who talked about the law. For instance, he mentioned Saint Augustine, who had argued that an unreasonable law should not be considered to be a law at all (Luther, 1963).
Conservatism is a political and social theory that seeks to promote upholding of traditional practices in institutions, and sustains the smallest and steady adjustment in the society (Krohn, 2010). Liberalism is faith in freedom and equal rights among all individuals. Conservative and liberal ideas can be vividly seen in the letter by King (Rawls, 2005). Martin insists that he totally understands that there is a difference between the whites and the blacks simply because of their skin colour. He believed that the whites should not mistreat the blacks as they did before; they should treat the blacks with the same sincerity and respect as they do to their fellow men. King understood that the whites would continue maintaining an upper position in the society; however, he dreamt that they would give their black counterparts more freedom and equal rights, as if the black American was a human being too. In this letter, King prefers that everyone in Birmingham, either white or black, have the same rights irrespectively of their views on life and society (Luther, 1963). The Declaration of Independence was a document that showed that American citizens were liberating themselves from the British domination (Fradin, 2007). There exist some similarities between this document and Martin Luther’s letter. The two documents, declare the freedom of all individuals. The Declaration talks about independence to all Americans while the letter addresses the need for independence to all black Americans. These two documents also mention that all human beings have the same rights and liberties that should be guaranteed; and without this guarantee, there will be a lack of peaceful coexistence between the most favoured and the less favoured groups in the society (Luther, 1963).
The leaders of the civil rights movement used all methods to lobby for the rights of the black Americans in the society. Christianity provided a platform for social leaders to advocate for their people’s rights. In the letter, Martin Luther claimed that Christianity was a channel through which messages were sent to the higher power for action (Luther, 1963). It was a mean of communication between the black activists and the authority. During the movement, the church was the only place where the black population could get equal treatment with their white counterparts. This means that many black people used to attend the church. During the church congregations, activist leaders called upon the black population to unite and fight for their rights. Christianity, therefore, brought the discriminated people together to fight for a common course.