Letter from Birmingham Jail: Overview
Martin Luther King, Jr.penned “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963 after being arrested for his participation in a non-violent demonstration against segregation.In his letter, King discusses the current societal problems of segregation and how best to demand change.
King firmly believes that the best way to go about trying to enact change with regard to racial barriers is through non-violent means. Violence only breeds more violence, whereas non-violent protests and demonstrations allow for a peaceful protest that will force more change. Using a non-violent approach was the most effective way for the African American community to voice their opinions and reap the changes that they so earnestly sought.
Non-violent action allows for the community to stand up and demand action through sit-ins, and other peaceful demonstrations in order to make governmental leaders and officials take note of the problem and attempt to address it. King notes, “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”.
When a community at large believes that they are being treated in an unjust manner and demonstrates their opinions through marches or sit-ins, rather than riots or other violent means, it has a much better chance of forcing negotiations with governmental leaders than a violent approach. When a responsible citizen or a group of citizens act responsibly to force change, it is much more likely that they will be taken seriously. If a group of African Americans were rioting and using other violent means to take a stand against racial injustice, they would only be labeled as part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.
Non-violent demonstrations allow for a community to let their frustration and discontent out through a creative outlet that does cause a setback in their goals. King compares his passion for equality between races to the same passion that Jesus had for love, or that Paul had a passion for the gospel. Comparatively speaking, both Jesus and Paul had profound effects on the society that they existed within, though peaceful and passionate means. King says of the oppressed black man, “If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat, but a fact of history”. By acting with passion, but without violence, the African American community is able to further their cause through showing that they only want to be treated justly.
The non-violent approach that King and his followers demonstrated in their fight for social equality was the most effective forum for them to voice their opinions. Through sit-ins, marches, and other non-violent demonstrations, the African American community was able to come together and demand change without causing violence that would only hinder their cause. Had violent means been used in an attempt to gain equality, the African American community would have been labeled as part of the problem, rather than being taken seriously. A non-violent approach to the injustices faced by the African American community showed the governmental leaders that these oppressed peoples were responsible citizens, deserving of the basic rights they were being denied. However, violent demonstrations would have setback the attempts to gain equality.