General aspects

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is an open letter which explores several topics in connection with the civil rights movement in the US.

The civil rights movement refers to a number of groups and actions in the 1950s and 1960s, organized with the purpose of advancing African-American rights in the US and ending racial segregation.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter was written following protests in Birmingham and in response to reproaches made against the protestors by a group of clergymen.

Non-violent activism and resistance

One of the main topics of the text is non-violent activism and resistance. In the letter, King explores the importance and necessity of protests and demonstrations against segregation and discrimination using several arguments.

First, King argues that non-violent protests create a constructive tension that forces authorities to negotiate civil rights: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”.

Secondly, the writer argues that non-violent activism is the only good course of action African Americans have to advance their cause after years of failed promises and negotiations:  “…we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”.

Furthermore, King believes that non-violent activism helps prevent the struggle from becoming violent or fading away: “…we need emulate neither the ‘do nothingism’ of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist.”.

The writer also claims that non-violent activism and taking an attitude is a moral and civil duty all people have when faced with injustice: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” ; “…for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.”.

King further explores this topic by arguing that being a moderate and waiting for an eventual change through laws will not bring about any meaningful social change:

This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come...

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