Letter from Birmingham Jail, which can also be called the “The Negro is Your Brother”, was an open letter of Martin Luther King Jr. written on April 16th, 1963. In his writing, the author defends the decision to resist the racial discrimination, namely the resistance that he defines as nonviolent. Martin insists that the people possess the moral responsibility to disrespect the unjust laws, thereby taking the initiating change instead of just waiting for justice to be delivered by the courts.
Martin Luther King Jr. explains the difference between “just and unjust laws” giving a clear distinction between them. He argues that “a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God while an unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” He proceeds with the statesmen that the laws that uplift a man’s personality are just while those that degrade it are unjust. According to him, individuals have legal and moral responsibility to respect just laws and disrespect unjust ones. Martin Luther concludes that “an unjust law is no law at all” (King 213).
According to King Jr., laws are state policies that are applicable to all the citizens of a country. They include the laws governing human rights and freedom. Under the law, the author asserts, all people should be treated equally. On the other hand, morality should govern individuals into distinguishing between actions that are good or wrong. Therefore, the treatment of the colored people of Birmingham is morally unfair, and King is convinced that the law does not approve it (King 215).
I absolutely agree with Martin Luther King’s arguments in the letter. The 13th and the 14th amendments to the US Constitution give the freedom from discrimination. All people have equal rights, socially, legally and economically. Martin Luther was, therefore, right to struggle against the discrimination. The colored Americans deserved the equal treatment just like the whites. Such segregation was unjust and unacceptable (King 215).
In the letter, Martin does not give a precise meaning of just and unjust laws, despite quoting St. Thomas Aquinas. I believe that the definition he gives contains more of the authority opinion in regards to the white official power favoring the racial segregation. The exact definition does not appear to make sense to the common person. King Jr. seems to be talking about something deeper than simply disobeying the “unjust laws”. He implies the willingness to break the law for a reasonable purpose and being ready to take responsibility for the outcomes (King 217).
Concerning the extremist group the Ku Klux Klan, Martin Luther feels that the concern should not be whether one is an extremist but the kind of extremist that they are. He thinks that any similar group that is concerned with the promotion of hate and injustice is not acceptable. To prove his argument, King Jr. talks about the extremists present in the Bible. He mentions the likes of Jesus and Amos as being extremists for love and justice respectively and argues that it is all right to be an extremist for a good course (King 219).
Martin Luther sounded more upset with the Birmingham authorities for the mean treatment that they gave to the “Negros.” In the city, the colored people were segregated and did not have equal rights as their white counterparts. He was distressed because of the impunity with which the police was brutally handling and killing his fellow blacks (The Antlantic 2013). The segregations prompted the protests that were led by Martin Luther himself together with other leaders (King 221).
King Jr. ends the letter in a rather surprising way. He does imply begging the clergy who accuse him of starting a civil strife. Instead, he asks them to grow strong in “hope.” He insists that he does not need the clergy in order to be free, and in a case he did, he would acknowledge it in his letter. The author and his brethren are strongly devoted to their cause. According to them, it is upon the clergy and the nation at large to make a choice on whether they want to join the train for “Peace and Brotherhood” lest they be left behind forever.
King, Martin Luther. “In Way of Wisdom .” Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963): pp. 213-223.
“Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The Atlantic, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/04/martin-luther-kings-letter-from-birmingham-jail/274668/. Accessed 11 Nov. 2017.