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Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

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The Influence of Mahatma Gandhi on Martin Luther King Jr. and his Letter from Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement and the national icon of justice in American history of Progressivism, while Mahatma Gandhi, at the same time, was the leader of Indian nationalism and the Indian movement for Independence. Gandhi also established the term of nonviolent resistance. So, what are the similarities between these two nationalists, and what are the differences in their works if there are any? Why Luther King is often compared to Mahatma Gandhi?

Letter from Birmingham Jail was written by Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama, as an open letter. Before writing this letter, Luther King was arrested and put in jail for his participation in the Birmingham campaign, the protest, a non-violent one, against racial discrimination and segregation by the government of Birmingham. Although after this protest New York Times Magazine even asked Martin Luther King Jr. to make his letter ready for publication, it was not published by Times. Still, Martin Luther King Jr. did not put aside his attempts to publish the letter and with the help of the editor of the only paper that was available to him, Letter from Birmingham Jail was published after all.

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During his life, Martin Luther King was considered to be a spokesman of the African-American community in the United States. So, his letter was nothing but a response to the declaration made by several Alabama clergymen who insisted that protests, no matter if they were against racial segregation or other issues, should be listened to and discussed in the courts and not on the streets. They all said that Martin Luther King Jr. was the outsider, the person who was causing only protests and fights on the Birminghams streets. King opposed those clergymen, saying in his letter that those clergymen statements were only the proof that injustice was everywhere and that everyone who had been living inside the United States could not be considered as an outsider. However, clergymen had again their proofs against King’s statements, saying that with his demonstration Martin Luther King Jr. created an immense tension between their power, power of clergymen, and ordinary people. King opposed clergyman accusations and stated that all those demonstrations on the streets had non-violent character. With exactly those non-violent actions, Martin Luther King tried to cause the tension and to force more people to follow him and face the issues he opposed.

However, clergymen had their facts even against those King’s proofs. They stated that the timing of those demonstrations was not the right one. In reply, Martin Luther King Jr. said that if they had held on longer, that would have meant that the demonstrations would never happen. King stated that people had been waiting for their rights to be declared for too long and exactly now the time when they had to protest against the injustice towards them came. All the protests that were led by King were the protests against injustice towards the African-American population in the United States and against the racial movements.

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King stated that all racial and civil rights movements were extreme. Moreover, he accused Jesus of being the extremist as well as his followers in the case of unjustified civil rights declarations. Those kinds of King’s statements created opposition even from president Eisenhower, who said that if he had met with such a person like Martin Luther King Jr., it would have been like he had met with the member of the Ku Klux Klan. However, all King wanted was to create a certain sympathy for the civil rights issue and not to provoke accusations from the president. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King wanted to get some emotional responses from his readers, both white and Afro-American communities in the United States. He wanted to provoke not aggressiveness, but non-violent reactions from both communities. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to cause the sparks; anti-immoral behavior sparks, like the cruel and unjustified behavior of the police towards demonstrators.

In his Letter from Birmingham, Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to justify demonstrators’ actions and wanted to pay clergymen attention to the importance of participation in such actions of justice. He even compared the fight of the people against the Nazi regime with the fight of the African-American community against injustice towards their civil rights. However, the most important thing in this letter was that Martin Luther King Jr. paid readers attention to the necessity of acting with the piece and with the thought about their unity. An interesting fact is that even in his Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. declared himself as a non-violent leader.

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The term of nonviolent resistance was introduced to King from Mahatma Gandhi’s works. Both of these nonviolent and famous activists used civil disobedience or their nonviolent resistance as the means to fight against injustice. Mahatma Gandhi, as well as Martin Luther King Jr., was the leader of nationalism in his own country. He created nonviolent protests against British colonists and their statements against the civil rights of the Indian population. With his nonviolent disobedience and protests, Gandhi was trying to bring his country independence and to inspire people to protest too, but only with nonviolent actions. While Martin Luther King Jr. wanted freedom for Afro-Americans and justice in their civil rights, Mahatma Gandhi wanted freedom and justice not just for his country and Indian people, but also for the whole world. He inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to write his opposition letter and to cause nonviolent demonstrations in the United States of America. Gandhi believed that with peace and unity, people could get their rights and their freedoms back. Both of them were trying to teach people how to resist and how to peacefully fight against barbaric treatment towards them. Both of them even after their death were considered as the spiritual geniuses and inspirations of all times. Gandhi did not say about himself as some philosopher, since he did not think so of himself. Moreover, he stated that he is only a man; he is he and nothing more. Although even after Gandhi’s death, one British delegate said that what was considered Gandhi’s movement was only the first step, the first major dawn in the Indian history of demonstrations and struggles.

In conclusion, it should be said that both Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were extremely influential people in the history of both nations they were fighting for. The most influential civil rights leaders of the twentieth century taught their people how to get what was essentially theirs in a peaceful way, being the unity, the one.


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