Two documents are essential to American history of the fight against black oppression: a letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. from a group of church ministers, Bishops of Alabama, and his response. They called for a peaceful solution to the issues of oppression of blacks through internal forces. To this statement, Dr. King objected that he could not sit idly, watching what is happening in Birmingham, since all people are connected by one mutuality network (King). Besides, he called the idea of an “outside agitator” provincial since anyone living in the United States cannot be considered a stranger within one state.
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Dr. King proposes problem-solving through a series of nonviolent actions that involves four steps: gathering facts to establish injustices, negotiating to attempt a compromise, self-purification to prepare for decisive action, and, finally, direct action. Although the last point somewhat contradicts the previous one, its primary goal is to bring the community to active negotiations by creating a crisis that other methods can no longer resolve. Thus, tension is created, not rigid, which King actively opposes, but constructive tension that promotes growth (King). He uses the phrase “nonviolent gadflies” as a metaphor for agitators who, like gadflies, must create enough tension to create a response.
One of the complaints about King’s move is that it is ill-timed. However, the activist counters this argument by saying that if whites went through at least some of the humiliations that make up the life of every black, they would understand why it is extremely difficult to wait (King). Even though blacks’ opposition goes on the brink of breaking the law, King believes that opposing unjust laws is not illegal and should be considered a moral responsibility. Besides, the activist notes that even fair laws can be applied unfairly, such as his arrest for an unauthorized parade, which is an example of using the law to promote segregation (King).
Another concept put forward by Dr. King is positive and negative peace. The first is the presence of justice, while the second is characterized by the absence of any tension (King). According to the activist, the main problem of white moderates is their superficial understanding of the issue. Simultaneously, the statements that the protests provoke violence, King considers illogical, citing as an example the presence of money, which, according to this logic, encourages a criminal to rob.
King’s idea of direct action is based on his desire to give black people the opportunity to express their displeasure. In his opinion, it can be directed in the form of nonviolent actions that whites label as extremists (King). However, Dr. King has embraced this label, drawing parallels with many historical figures, from Jesus to Jefferson. Much more important, in his opinion, is whether the protesters will be extremists for hate or love (King). Sharing the ideas of Christ, Dr. King expected the white church to be one of his most reliable allies. However, apart from a few exceptions, he met some of his most ardent opponents there, which gave rise to his dissatisfaction with this institution. King does not deny that he deeply loves the church, considering it the body of Christ, but a body mutilated and covered with scars, which he saw on his travels.
King also speaks out negatively regarding the praise of the police officers. While many officials supported them in maintaining order, the activist saw the teeth of police dogs gnawing into blacks’ bodies and the treatment of blacks in police stations. Therefore, as the true heroes of the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King singles out the demonstrators in Birmingham, those blacks who were not afraid to defend their position, no matter what.
Finally, at the end of his speech, King notes the hope that racial prejudice will soon be dispelled and stars of love and brotherhood will shine in the future. However, unfortunately, given the protests of blacks in recent years, the activists’ hopes were not destined to come true, since now this part of society suffers from the same segregation as 50 years ago, only more subtle.
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Carpenter, C.C.J., et al. ” Letter to Martin Luther King.” Teaching American History, 1963, Web.
King, Martin Luther Jr. “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Why We Can’t Wait, edited by Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963.