Pre- AP English 4
20 February 2015
The Greatest Weapon--- Peace
Cesar E. Chavez once said, “Non-violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak… Non-violence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.” While confined in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Chavez’s sentiment when he responded to local clergymen. In their letter to King, the clergymen indicate that his actions were “unwise and untimely” (King, 1), a comment which further sparks King’s disappointment in the clergymen and in the majority of the average white man, the white moderate. The clergymen and white moderate are grouped as a whole; both support the cause of desegregation, but condemn the methods of direct action. King uses dark, gruesome word choices and real world examples to show why direct action is needed and how, if the white moderate and clergymen had helped their cause, they would be much further in their plan to end segregation.
The first few paragraphs of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” include specific legal and moral explanations on why exactly he is in Birmingham. King says “…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here” (King, 3) and “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (King, 4). He expresses that he is also there due to the fact that “…it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time… you deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place… the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.” (King, 5). He uses statements like “But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being…I would not hesitate… unfortunate…no other alternative…you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst…” to further his confrontational and critical tone. King’s tone reflects the idea that he is there with his direct action program since the clergymen have yet to physically take a stand against the injustice that has been taking place in Birmingham.
After describing the four basic steps for determining that an injustice is present, King indicates why African Americans can no longer wait for direct action. He uses dark and negative words and real life examples to bring a more personal and vivid sense of imagery. His vocabulary includes words like “…stinging darts of segregation…vicious mobs lynch… drown…hate-filled policemen…kick, brutalize, and even kill…wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”…haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro…” (King, 11). King’s specific words help the audience to put themselves in King or his follower’s shoes and imagine just how horribly high the level of injustice and segregation had become.
To make his point more clear and evident as to why they can no longer wait, King uses the words of Martin Buber when he says, “… segregation substitutes the “I-it” relationship for the “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful.” (King, 13). King furthers his argument of why they cannot wait when he describes “when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness”--- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” (King, 11).
King goes on to explain the difference between a just and an unjust law; sameness made legal versus difference made legal. Just laws are where the majority and minority follow something together, while unjust laws have the majority forcing the minority to follow something they disagree with. He gives examples of laws that seem just but are unjust when they are being applied, “… nothing wrong…