King’s Views on Just and Unjust Laws
In our country there are two types of laws. We have just laws and unjust laws. In Martin Luther King’s opinion, we as members of the United States should obey just laws without hesitance. He claimed that, “one has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.” He also claimed, “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Unjust laws in his mind were no laws at all. They were laws placed here that needed to be broken.
Martin Luther King saw that segregation was not only rooted in unjust laws, but from groups who placed the laws on minorities expecting them to follow. However, these majority groups fail to follow the law themselves, therefore making it unjust. King felt that we should never obey an unjust law. He felt it necessary for us to obey unjust laws in non violent ways in order to gain civil rights, and that the supreme courts were not the way to solve segregation. He made this clear by coming to Birmingham in the first place. King thought it necessary to show direct action. He himself claimed, “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.” In this quote King makes it clear that he is upset with the way Birmingham has handled the segregation issues, and that nonviolent direct action is the only resort. Sit ins, marches, etc. were now the only tools they could use to lead to negotiation. King chose this path because there were no other options.
Negotiation was the original form of battling segregation. According to King, “In any nonviolent campaign, there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustice exists; negotiations; self-purification; and direct action.” Negotiation was initially the method used to solve the problem, however after promises from Birmingham’s economic leaders were broken, King and his followers had no other choice but to proceed on to direct action. He says it best when he remarks, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” That is exactly the point of the movement in Birmingham. It was not the fact that King wanted to start tension; it was that he knew through direct action he could enforce negotiation upon city officials of Birmingham.