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Letter from Birmingham Jail

Free History Essays

Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Various Responses that Martin Luther King Junior

This letter was drafted by Martin Luther King Junior on April 16th, 1963 from his Birmingham jail. He had been detained for being part of a group that had organized a non-violent demonstration aimed at fighting racism. This letter from Birmingham Jail was a response to various statements made by certain religious leaders who were denouncing the actions of Martin Luther Junior of engaging in street demonstrations. The main issue that led to these demonstrations was the racial abuses that black people faced. They had increased to a level that they could not be tolerated by the majority of black people. Even though the clergy acknowledged that racism indeed existed, they argued that the fight against racism should have taken place in court and not in the streets. In criticizing Martin Luther Jr., they referred to him as an intruder who had come to cause trouble to the government of the day. This paper summarizes the letter and looks at the various responses that Martin Luther King Junior offered.

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The main issue that led to the writing of this letter was the increased racial abuse of the blacks (Martin Luther King, 1994). Martin Luther King had made an argument that the world was an integrated place where anything that affected a particular individual was considered to affect everybody as well. His argument was that every single human being was faced with the same destiny; therefore, no one was to consider himself superior to the other on the basis of their skin color. The clergy, on the other hand, made an effort to disapprove of the actions by Martin Luther King Junior as they thought he systematically executed them to cause tension among the citizens who were believed to be peace-loving. The clergy also questioned Martin Luther King’s timing of the demonstrations as they thought that the timing was not appropriate as it caused unnecessary tension among the citizens.

There was also the general idea as propagated by the clergy that the demonstrations organized by Marti Luther King were generally against the laws of the land. King, at first, denied the allegations labeled against him. The clergy had asserted that the human rights activists pioneered and championed by Martin Luther King Junior were an extremist movement meant to scuttle all the gains that had been realized. Though Luther vehemently denied these accusations at first, he later came to accept them but added that these movements were a different type of extremist movement that advocated for the social and racial recognition of the blacks within the society.

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The letter written by Martin Luther was a response to the various accusations labeled against him by the clergy on the role he played in organizing demonstrations in Birmingham city. He was agitating for the recognition and respect for all races as he believed that they were all equal. The clergy had initially made statements that denounced the activities carried out by Martin Luther King. There were various responses that Martin Luther King made to these accusations. Martin Luther King Junior responded to the vicious attacks labeled against him by the clergy by broadly stating that the demonstrations he organized were mainly meant to cause sufficient tension within the government ranks so that the government officials could act expeditiously to solve the cases of rising racism. He further argued that the commotion that the tension created by his organized demonstrations would compel the various communities within England to concern themselves with the responsibility of addressing the issues surrounding racism. He believed that the created tension would encourage these communities to take up the challenge of solving the issue of racism once and for all without much further delay.

On the accusations of engaging in criminal activities and assertion by the clergy that Martin Luther should have let the due process of the law take its course, he responded by saying that he and other concerned personalities had endeavored to wait for so long, but nothing had materialized. One of his claims was that the people who had hoped to find justice on the racial abuses they had received from their white counterparts.

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Martin Luther King Junior, in his response, said that the people had waited for justice for an extraordinarily long time and were now tired of waiting for a process that they then believed would never see the light of day. Luther argued that the Negros in America had been oppressed for extremely long times and at some point decided that it was enough. They had yearned for freedom from oppression for an extraordinarily long time, and they were determined to see that there was racial justice. In articulating himself, he argued that the oppressed people will undoubtedly be reminded by the forces within themselves about their birthright freedoms. Either, they would also be reminded by the external forces around them that they had to do something to realize their dream of a racially just society.

The clergy also made claims that the demonstrations organized by Martin Luther King were unlawful. He responded to these accusations by asserting that the civil disobedience shown by the people was justified especially in situations where unjust laws were practiced (Martin Luther King, 1994). He also argued that the world was interrelated, and the clergy should realize that whatever affected individuals anywhere in the world affected the majority everywhere.


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