King opens the letter with stating his position as President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference?an organization operating in every southern state that has affiliation with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human rights. His purpose on earth is to carry the gospel Of freedom beyond his hometown, just as the prophets from the Bible carried the gospel to the corners of the Greece-Roman world.
King’s letter was arranged in an organized fashion that explains what caused him to start taking direct action, why direct action is necessary, why it is worthy to break unjust laws, being considered an extremist, his disappointment with the church, and recognizing the true heroes of the South. King feels there is a relation between all communities. Therefore, he cannot work solely in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ” Its unfortunate that the city white power structure leaves the Negro community with no alternative for direct action.
Birmingham is the most segregated city in the United States. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatments in the streets and in the courts that are widely known. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the action. Negroes sought to negotiate with the city leaders, but they consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation. Another cause of direct action was the broken agreement to a moratorium on all racial signs that sat in stores’ windows that was made by Birmingham community leaders.
In preparation to start taking direct action, the Negroes decided to undertake a process of self-purification. King began a series of nonviolent workshops where they would learn to accept blows without retaliation, and endure the ordeal of jail. Non-violent direct action is designed to create such crisis that a community which has consistently refused negotiation is now forced to confront the issue. The southland has been forced to live in monologue rather than dialogue for too long. One of the criticisms in the clergyman’s statement was questioning why MILK didn’t give the new city administration time to act.
His answer was that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded before they will act. He believes that Albert Bottle?a segregationist and the mayor?will not take action in the massive resistance to desegregation without pressure through legal and nonviolent action. King states “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. ” A second issue the clergy men had was the Negroes willingness to break laws.
King answers by saying that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. He believes that everyone has a moral obligation to obey just laws, and disobey the unjust laws. How do you determine the difference? A just law is in harmony with the law of God and uplifts human personality, while and unjust law opposes the Word of God and gives the segregated a false sense of priority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Messiah, Starch, and Obtained defied an unjust law. They were willing to accept death rather than submit to unjust laws.
King believes that the greatest stumbling block in his stride towards freedom are not organizations such as the UK Klux Klan, but the white moderate, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace which is the presence of justice. Law and order exist for the sole purpose of establishing justice. King was somewhat bewildered that the clergymen considered him to be an extremist. However, he gradually gained a sense of satisfaction from the title after realizing that Jesus was categorized as an extremist.
He uses the dramatic scene on Calvary hill as an example. Three men were crucified that day, and all for the same reason?the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, the other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness. “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his airtight of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. The question is not whether they will be extremists, but what kind of extremists they will be. King goes on to expresses a major disappointment with the white church and its leadership. Before stating his specific disappointments, he establishes himself as a minister of the gospel who loves the church; not as a negative critic who can always find something wrong with the church. King had hoped that the religious leaders would, with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which the Negroes attempts for justice loud reach the power structure. But he was disappointed.
King claims that he has yet to hear a white minister declare that integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. Instead, he has heard many ministers say that those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern. King describes a time when the church was very powerful and rejoiced at being considered worthy to suffer for what they believe in. The contemporary church is a weak, impressionTABLE voice; and if it doesn’t recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity and be Semitism as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
The final topic King writes about is honoring the few “noble souls” that went against the grain of conformity and suffered as active partners in the fight for freedom. King is convinced that if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery did not stop them, then the opposition they now face will also surely fail. The clergymen commended the police officers for keeping “order” and “preventing violence,” but King feels that the clergymen wouldn’t be so commending if they knew how police treated unarmed and nonviolent Negroes.
He wishes the clergymen had commended the Negroes, instead, for their willingness to suffer prejudiced persecutions. One day the South will recognize their real heroes. It will be the people that stood up for what is best in the American dream. MILK has never written so long a letter, but he asks what else is one supposed to do other than think long thoughts, write long letters, and pray long prayers when locked up alone in a narrow jail cell? He begs for the clergyman’s forgiveness in advance if he said anything in the letter that indicates an unreasonTABLE impatience.