Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fifty Year History of an Important Letter - Do You Remember?

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." King was jailed for campaigning against racial segregation in Birmingham, in violation of an injunction against anyone "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing." His letter was written on the margins of a newspaper, scraps of paper that another prisoner gave to him, and then a legal pad that his attorney left behind. It has been an inspiration to millions of people; I am one of them. The letter was very long in its entirety, but here are some excerpts: 


I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly....

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet like speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiffly creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim;
….when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; 

…when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;

… when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Fun town is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky,

…and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;

…when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; 

…when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you;

…when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs.";

…when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience....

One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feet’s is tired, but my soul is at rest." 

There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience's sake. 

One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The entire, compelling letter can be seen at

As an American, this letter makes me shudder as I think back at the horrible scenes from our nation's history, the things I have personally witnessed, t
o name just a few

  • how even my own boss in the United States Air Force, Technical Sergeant Whitney, had to drive half way across the United States from California to Chicago non-stop because he and his wife couldn’t find a decent hotel that would let them stay; 
  • how one of my employees, dark sinned but married to a very pale white woman were refused service in a restaurant in Mississippi as he served an assignment for my company; 
  • how, while in charge of a small contingent of airmen on a trip from Texas to Mississippi I found the black men in my squad couldn’t enter a New Orleans, LA restaurant with the white men. Of course none of us ate there, but I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. 

The picture is somewhat better now, but still played out in some form or fashion all over the world to this day.
This Reverend King, sitting in a small cell, unjustly imprisoned, writes from the heart. How prophetic are his views of the changes that would take place in the near future and indeed the scenes have changed somewhat. 

The cast of players differs as black Americans are slowly gaining respect and equality, even now holding offices as President of the U.S.A., as influential members of Congress, heads of corporations, industry leaders and champions of social justice, but there still remain other horrible scenes similar to those as described by Dr. King.

Now intolerance has taken on new masks, those of religious intolerance, political antagonism to the point of hatred, mindless sexual abuse, discrimination against individuals due to gender preferences, and the ongoing threat of nation against nation. 

May we all quietly consider Dr. King's message, and consider how it relates to far more than racial injustice, and, as actively as we can, counter the tendencies toward hatred, intolerance and violence, through prayer and our own actions. His model of active resistance is one for us to admire and emulate. 

It appears that we need to respond with deep compassion and feeling to the question posed in the Bible: 
Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? Malachai 2 

And to its reassurance that: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galations 3:28

And religious pioneer, Mary Baker Eddy, in her Bible companion book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, encourages us to move forward in her statement:   "Jesus marked out the way. Citizens of the world, accept the “glorious liberty of the children of God,” and be free! This is your divine right.

For those who have inquired about the book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, referenced in some of my articles, here’s the information. This book is used in Bible study by students of Christian Science and people of many different faiths.

It explains the scientific laws behind the teachings and healings of Christ Jesus. From the first chapter, “Prayer,” to her exegeses of Genesis and Revelation, the author invites readers to deeply consider the allness of God, the perfection of man as God's spiritual creation, and how an understanding of these facts brings healing—just as it did in biblical times. For over 135 years, readers have testified that reading and studying this book has given them a spiritual sense of the Bible and their permanent relationship to God, and has also resulted in physical healing and spiritual uplift. For more information or to purchase this book, click here.


Melissa Hayden said...

Thanks Pat. Mary Baker Eddy once wrote: The nature of Jesus made him keenly alive to the injustice, ingratitude, treachery, and brutality that he received. Yet behold his love! So soon as he burst the bonds of the tomb he hastened to console his unfaithful followers and to disarm their fears.

What a great role model for us.

kelkmac said...

really beautiful. I've never read ML Kings letter, so I appreciate your sharing.

I love the reminder that hate and injustice are not limited to racial issues, but try to make themselves seen in small and large ways everyday. Lots of opportunities for healing and for "growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love and good deeds."
(Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy)

Patrick Collins said...

Thank You Melissa and Kelly. The rush to judgment and the downward pull of self righteousness are powerful unless and until met with the truth, that goodness and love overcome evil and hatred.

Keith Eberhart said...

Thanks Pat. Very Powerful!