On April 12, 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. participated in a peaceful protest march in defiance of a court injunction banning demonstrations there. King was arrested and jailed. While there, he replied in his now famous Letter from Birmingham Jail to white clergy who stated they were opposed to segregation but were upset by “outsiders” like King stirring up trouble in the Birmingham community. He addresses their concerns and criticisms in this emotional letter.
Next Sunday is the 52nd anniversary of this event, and I took time this past week to reread his direct response. He begins by explaining that he isn’t an outsider who has come to cause trouble but rather was invited to Birmingham by an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). King also provides a moral reason for coming to Birmingham to battle injustice. He believes “all communities and states” are interdependent and that he wants to work for justice anywhere injustice is being practiced. Dr. King in turn criticizes the white clergy for only focusing on the protestors without equally being critical of the racist causes of the injustice that is being protested.
I Learned Something
I’ve never really understood the purpose of peaceful protest marches, and it wasn’t until I heard King’s explanation in this letter from jail that I began to finally get it. His explanation for the power of protest marches is that they create a “crisis” and “tension” of sorts and that negotiations can’t happen without that upset, which forces unwilling parties to negotiate, hopefully in good faith. I see what he meant. I finally get it!
While the letter goes on to respond to the numerous racist and one-sided remarks made by the white clergy, I drifted off in my thoughts to questions that continue to rise in my consciousness as I age. Why are we still not “there” with regard to equal rights? Why is the abyss still so wide and deep? Has there been any real progress during my life to feel we are making headway?
I’d love to see a unification and an amalgamation of all the peoples of the world who are excluded or ridiculed or bullied and chastised … in my lifetime. Sounds like Pollyanna? It doesn’t matter how it sounds.
What to Do
I believe the best thing I can do is live my life as a mirror of how I want the world to be…to not shut people out because they are different or their beliefs and ideals are different or because they live differently than I do. If I can accept someone in my own circle of family and friends who believes differently, worships differently, raises their children differently or follows a different path to joy, I can do that for someone across town or across the world.
I see many senior citizens looking to the younger generation to make the needed changes. But we are all leaders, aren’t we? Regardless of our age, there is much work to be done.
It has been said we're living in post-racial America. This is just not true. Each and everyone of us is still part of the problem as well as part of the solution. Your "peaceful protest" counts.
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