Racial oppression is a heinous tragedy that has no place in the modern world. This is the message Reverend Martin Luther King is attempting to convey in his literary work, Letter from Birmingham Jail. The letter is being written at a time where tensions in the United States are running high on the issue of racial equality. Dissatisfaction had risen within the impoverished black people, and various responses were seen from various groups within the black community. Some factions, such as those led by Malcolm X, chose to go on the offensive. King’s party, on the other side, favored peaceful resistance to white supremacists (King). At the height of his nonviolent campaign, King moved to Birmingham to lead the blacks in a march against the administration. However, the police took them into custody for protesting the infringement of their human rights. The sentiments expressed in the letter are King’s impression of the situation. Several years down the line, the same problem persists. Racial injustice is also a contemporary menace in the United States. The disadvantaged black population has often found avenues to express their discontent in such groups as “Black Lives Matter.” This is a radical activist group that champions the rights of the black American. Doctor Martin Luther King’s letter clearly demonstrates that morality, and not the established order, is the most important thing even in campaigns such as those for racial equality.
Peaceful demonstrations have been endorsed by King as a moral avenue for the expression of disquiet against a social order that perpetrates inequality. King acknowledges four important steps in the creation of peaceful demonstrations. The first step is fact taking. This collection of facts helps the warring parties to establish the existence of any injustice. A positive illustration of injustice at this point warrants the next step, negotiation. In negotiation, the parties try to establish middle ground and peacefully resolve the conflict. The next step when negotiation fails is self-purification. In self-purification, the party establishes the cost of the action and also evaluates their willingness to subject themselves to this measure. In this phase, the mission is laid out clearly, and the members of the movement have to do a reality check on themselves. It is at this stage that the limits of the action are established, and the basic guidelines are laid out. This is a crucial point to ensure that the campaign is fighting for morality without violating that same morality that justifies its cause. The final step is direct action. In direct action, the involved party carries out their demonstration, having well-established guidelines, and holding themselves to a higher ideal as was clarified in the self-purification process.
Important aspects of the idea of justice by King also underscore the principle of morality and illustrate the superiority of morality over order in the formulation of justice. The first important aspect of justice expressed in King’s letter is that justice is a global concept that can only be executed in full measures. There can be no half measures in implementing justice. King demonstrates this concept in his statement that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (1). This emphasizes that it behooves every man to do their part in forwarding the successful execution of justice. It is a collective responsibility and applies universal standards that are objective, rational and moral. The second important aspect is that justice should be dispensed without delay. King says that “justice too long delayed is justice denied” (2). Thirdly, the establishment of justice demands the participation of all the involved players. No one single person should have the power to unilaterally declare what is just and what is not. King clarifies this observation in his statement that “an unjust law is a code inflicted on a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote” (2). Another important principle is that justice transcends written codes of law. King argues that “there are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application” (2). Here, King illustrates that it is not just enough to have in place the laws and conclude that this is a just arrangement. Rather, moral principles should guide the application of these laws at every turn. This morality should be given precedence over any law the same way Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego defied the king Nebuchadnezzar in keeping with their virtue.
The issue of white privilege and black segregation is also a contemporary issue that has sparked much uproar and holds the attention of the justice system and activist movements in modern America. The emergence of the activist group, “Black Lives Matter” and its campaign is one of the events that are relevant to the issue of racial justice. The activist group takes the mantle from revolutionaries such as King and Malcolm X to champion the rights of the black American. The group protests the glaring incidences of police brutality against the black American on the American soil. However, the activities of the group have given it the reputation of being a violent group (Harrington ). According to Harrington,” the Black Lives Matter movement is centered around calls for violence against police with chants such as the ones used by those in New York City in 2014 of ‘What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!’
The mission of the group is one that advocates for morality, where all men are treated equally. King would agree with the mission of the group. He expresses his sentiments on the matter of Black oppression very clearly in his letter from the Birmingham jail. King says that the black American, like any other man, cannot be oppressed forever. He reiterates that racial justice is an issue to which several communities aspire. An agenda with such a huge following cannot be defeated. King further uses this observation of the inevitability of freedom to sanction the Black man’s campaign against the established white supremacy (4).
However, the actions of the group violate that morality which King preaches as being even supreme to the codes of law. King would condemn the violent approach of this group. His sentiment in the letter shows that he believed in the effectiveness of peaceful processes and the necessity of all parties involved to safeguard morality. No party can claim to have a lesser responsibility than the other. In violently protesting their rights, this group violates the rights of others. This is ironic in the face of the fact that the message that this group is trying to get across is that their rights are not being heard.
Harrington, Alec. “Do Black Lives Matter to Black Lives Matter?” University Wire 05 Mar 2017. Print.
King, Martin Luther Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” The Atlantic Monthly August 1963.