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Thermometer or Thermostat? MLK Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

April 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm PST

Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell

 “…when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;

…when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Martin Luther King Jr was a civil rights leader who transformed the conversation on race in the United States. He wrote this letter after being arrested while leading marches and sit-ins to protest racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Eight fellow clergymen of Alabama wrote an open letter asking him to cease his leadership of the demonstrations and to pursue justice through the courts. I was drawn to re-read the full text of the letter after reading Dr. Eric L. Motley’s essay, “On the 50th Anniversary, the Living Legacy of “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Motley writes:

its ideas transcend the turbulent times in which it was written. Civil rights historian Diane McWhorter notes that the original conflict “was between not good and evil, but good and normal.” The brute racism that strikes us today as mass social insanity Read More »

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