The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written by Martin Luther King is striving to justify the need for an action that is direct and nonviolent. It also talks about the Black people and their possibility to resort to disorder and civil disobedience and King’s own frustrations with Church whom he thought as not doing the duties and responsibilities that people of God should do. Martin Luther King does not want violence to ensue. He just wants to implement or make amendments to the existing laws of the country and the ruling of the Supreme Court in 1954 to be observed.
According to King, an individual has the moral responsibility to not obey or observe laws that are unjust (King 1963). The mass action does not break the law because a law that is not morally right is not really a law. The laws are made to protect the citizens of the land and not to be used for punishment and degradation of the people. The black people of America were willing to do what it takes to claim their legal and moral rights that are rightfully theirs. They will do this preferably without violence and through peaceful means.
If they are not allowed to express their sentiments, then they would resort to a much uglier scenario. If these needs of the black Americans will not be addressed soon, there will be chaos and violence since the people have so many emotions and frustrations that are pent up inside. A similar theme of civil disobedience can be found in previous readings. One such reading is Chief Seattle’s Oration wherein he talked about the relationship of the people and mother earth. It talks about the Native Americans as a minority race and the violence that has occurred between his race and that of the white people.
He elevates his people in that oration by saying that the Euro-Americans were also to be blamed for the violence because he recalled a time when the “white man” drove their forefathers further into the west. The Native Americans want peace to reign in the land. The same with the Letter from Birmingham Jail, Oration talks about resorting to violence if the rights of the people will not be respected and the law wold choose to persecute them instead. They would rather have peace but it is the persecution of the law that forces them to resort to violence.
The law that is observed by the whites is said to be morally unjust because it discriminates against minorities instead of protecting them. This justification of moral action that is evident in the two previous works mentioned is also evident in Plato’s Crito. This is a dialogue that will justify the decision of Socrates to stay in prison despite the fact that he was wrongfully accused of doing something that he did not do. Plato made a distinction between the just laws in which Socrates obeyed by staying in prison and the morally wrong behavior of those who accused him.
As can be seen from the previous readings, the laws that man has created can be morally unjust for those who are disadvantaged like the black Americans and the native Americans or Indians. Every man has the right to defend himself when he no longer sees the rules to be morally just. Just like King said in his letter, rules were made for the protection of all and not for the privileged few. If people cannot fight for their rights as human beings and are being persecuted, then they have no choice but to defend themselves through the use of violence.
The only difference that can be seen from Birmingham Jail is that Socrates opted to stay in prison and not fight against the authorities. He did not feel the need to resort to violence because he was following the just law of not escaping in prison. King’s reasoning for the civil disobedience is being written in letter through a type of reasoning that is inductive. If the government will not respect the rights of the black Americans and not listen to them even through protests of peaceful means, then violence will be used against them. There are universal rights that all people can appeal to.
These are the basic rights of man to live, freedom of speech and expression and many others. There are certain rights that are dictated by the state and culture to protect certain aspects of society. But these laws should not violate the rights of the people. The laws will become morally unjust if the rights of the people will be stepped on or become endangered. It is true that rights and laws can be in conflict. That’s why there is a need for the world, especially the governments of countries, to listen to the people regarding changes in the law just like the letter of Martin Luther King Jr.
Courtney from Study Moose
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