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MLK: From Preacher to Thinker

September 20, 2010

Before being sent to Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Junior was sent to Birmingham, Alabama by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, in order to demonstrate nonviolent street protests in order to undermine the segregational core of the city.  Upon his arrival, he declared, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”  This declaration seems quite characteristic of King: it is preachy and profound.

After reading King’s letter from Birmingham Jail, I was able to view this great leader in a new light; in the light of a thinker with depth and immense intellect.  It is clear that King handles the theme of law and justice by relating it to something understandable for the clergymen, to whom he is directly addressing.  He quotes recognizable theologians such as Catholic Saint, Thomas Aquinas, who speaks of unjust law, as well as quoting Protestant theologist, Paul Tillich, who speaks of the “sin” of separation.

Aside from these quotes and references which appeal directly to the clergymen, he references great thinkers that appeal to every level of an individual reading this published letter.  He mentions Socrates, St. Augustine, and T.S. Eliot.  In addition to mentioning great thinkers he puts the situation at hand on a personal level for every mother, father, daughter, and son.  He speaks of children who are denied the privilege to attend a theme park, and describes this in such a way: “ominous clouds of inferiority begin to form in [their] little mental sky.”  King is able to point out here that a child is born with a pure mind, and that because of the society, a child is FORCED to adapt to the ways of society where he or she is either forced to realize that she is inferior, or forced to realize that she is superior; neither of which are healthy for a young child.

Juxtaposed next to the idea of the corruption of a child, King talks about patience.  I believe that this was a genius juxtaposition as people often associate impatience with a child.  Here however, he discusses the impatience of the entire black American community.  He writes:

“For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’ ”

King seems to be saying that the black community should no longer be treated like “children” waiting for a response from their “parents.”

If I walked away from reading this letter with one thought, it how relatable this piece of written work truly was to any level of an individual.  That is an amazing ability and for that reason my respect for Martin Luther King Junior has risen.

The below youtube video expresses the words of MLK’s letter through video and images.  I believe that it is worth taking a look at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch%3fv=knFojb020bY

One Comment
  1. dbwein permalink
    September 21, 2010 12:00 AM

    I think that one of the most important ideas in Dr. King’s letter was in his discussion of how time does not create change, and how one cannot just wait forever and hope that change occurs. He writes,”For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” I believe this holds true not only for the black community during the civil rights movement, hoping to achieve true equality, but also for any person or community awaiting change. Time does NOT cure all ills alone. I believe, only repeated action by a passionate group through an extended period of time will be able create the change that people wish to see.

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