In tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this year, here are excerpts from Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” along with recent controversies, tragedies and present day debate that underscore how the struggle to the mountaintop continues.
“While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I want to try to answer (my critics who call me an extremist) . . .
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The goal of America is freedom. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail . . .
“When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men (and women) are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair . . .
“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.” ( Stop and Frisk and Stand Your Ground laws, created, seemingly, to exclusively limit the freedom and rights of non-whites.)
“We have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all. ‘Civil disobedience was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.’ In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience . . .
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block is not the White Citizen’s Council or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice . . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will . . .
“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was legal and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was illegal. It was illegal to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany . . .
“Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you.’ And Abraham Lincoln: ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’ And Thomas Jefferson: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ..’ So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be . . .
“One day (America) will know that when (the) disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Christian heritage . . .
“You warmly commended the police force for keeping order and preventing violence. I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe . . ..”
- A police officer gun down a 12-year-old child on a street in Cleveland, OH.
- Another police officer gun down an unarmed 18-year-old on a street in Ferguson, MO.
- A Californian Highway Patrolman straddling and punching, repeatedly in the face, a 51-year-old unarmed Negro woman.
- Or heard about, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL where 55 unidentified bodies were recently found buried on its 1,400-acre campus.
- 5 NYPD wrestling to the ground an unarmed black father on the streets of Staten Island, NY, and, killing him with an illegal chokehold.
- Or know of, the 22-year-old black man in New Iberia, Louisiana who was shot in the chest while sitting in the backseat of a patrol car, handcuffed behind his back—the official coroner’s report called his death a suicide.
- Or heard of, the 21-year-old black man in Jonesboro, Arkansas who in 2012 was shot in the head while sitting in the backseat of a police car, handcuffed behind his back—yet, another suggested suicide.
The list of inexplicably unindicted police offenses goes on and on and on.
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial, (gender, religious and LGBT) prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding be lifted from our fear drenched communities. And in some not too distant tomorrow may the radiant stars of love and brotherhood shine over our great nation.”
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was known for eloquent speeches and nonviolent, non-cooperative protests that some considered extreme. In his absence, it is past time for us all to adopt a more extremist reaction to the escalating war being waged against our children and our future that will chase the clouds, and lift the fog and make that not so distant tomorrow today.