"Letter from Birmingham Jail" makes no sense unless you accept the idea
of natural law -- a law that objectively exists whether or not it is recognized
by people and countries, a law by which things are either right or wrong, no
matter what the law said. King was drawing on a Western heritage that runs back
through the American founding fathers to Aquinas to Aristotle -- the idea that
no matter what the law may now say, there is always the right of an "appeal
to Heaven." As Aquinas put it, a just law is one that is in
accord with natural, eternal law. A law that is not, is not a law at all, but a
species of violence, and entitled to no respect.Unfortunately, the
Western liberal tradition (running from the French revolutionaries through Hegel
and Nietzsche to Holmes and Rorty) has largely accepted the idea of positivism
-- the idea that there is no objective law beyond that which society decides
ought to be law. Under that standard, "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is
illogical.Under the natural law standard I hold to, though,
it's one of America's authentic founding documents.
It was a magical time, back in the day. Chuck Berry did more to bring people
together than any march. The music is what made it happen The list of artists I
loved can go on for pages Today's music ain't got the same sole. Sole
is the ability to put yourself in some one eases shoes.
Dr. King had a great sense of humor, according to people who knew him. And, he
had a cutting sense of the ridiculous. So, he would find
paleoconservatives' claim today that he would oppose the very reforms he
fought for ludicrous. The famous Poor People's March on Washington in
1968, conceived by Dr. King, was to demand reforms to limit poverty, and
programs to increase employment for the poor and minorities. The labor movement
helped organize that march as it had the March on Washington for Jobs and
Freedom in 1963. Dr. King was also planning national actions to oppose the
Vietnam War.Voices on the Right, particularly Glenn Beck, have done
the public a disservice by trying to mangle Dr. King's history to claim he
would oppose safety net programs, unions, affirmation action and even the
election of the first African-American President. He would not. Dr. King
consistently sided with the downtrodden and supported change. One result is
about half of African-American households are middle-class today, quite an
achievement. We should not ignore the progress that has been made.
Martin Luther King understood that moderation was "...mediocrity, fear, and
confusion in disguise. It's the devil's dilemma. It's neither
doing nor not doing. It's the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy.
Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world
afraid to take a stand. It's for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those
afraid to live or die. Moderation...is lukewarm tea, the devil's own
brew” (Dan Milman)It's too bad the religious leaders the day
felt that moderation would accomplish something. It rarely ever does. Only in
hindsight are the religious leaders able to admit that MLK was right.
My young college students are completely astonished by what happened during the
Civil Rights Era. The idea that it would take the 101st Airborne Division to
provide security for a single black student at the University of Mississippi is
beyond comprehension to most of them. When I told students the story of the
Freedom Riders they were shocked at the violence inflicted them - all over
having buses where black and whites rode together as equals. "This actually
happened in this country?" one student asked. Another stated "I'm
ashamed to be an American." I told them that the point of all
this is that America did change and change dramatically. Look around the world.
Most people are still trying to settle old scores that go back centuries. Yet in
one generation this country was able to transform race relations to the point
that the rising generation can't believe things were ever any different. It
should be a point of pride but also a challenge to continue to advance the cause
of human rights and the brotherhood of man.
Unfortunately, the Birmingham Jail itself sits vacant and mouldering on what is
still the Birmingham city jail complex. It's really a dump. Although a
plaque is to be placed there this month, it's a shame that such an
important site has gone so long without any attempt at preservation. It's
very difficult to even figure out where the place is. Google it, and you'll
get all sorts of different stories.
If you haven't read the letter, you need to. Truly a remarkable document.
Thanks for this timely and important commentary.
Unfortunately, he would cringe at how things have become. You have people who
claim to have marched with him, who mischaracterize, what he was about. They
con tinue to play the race card, whenever possible, which only lessons the claim
of someone who actually had been discriminated. Like the boy who cried wolf.
He wasn't about denegrating any race over the other, like it is being done
today. He wasn't marching so that people could sit back and recieve free
stuff from the Govt. He wasn't marching about stuff either. He was
talking about rights for all. The rights found in the Constitution. He would
also be ashamed that he allowed the Democrats to enslave his people into
economic bondage. All these social programs the Democrats and Progressives on
both parties have done, was to make things as bad now, as they were in the 60s,
when they declared war on poverty. Look at the inner cities, they are dying.
Nothing has worked. He did champion character, hard work, success, ability to
earn a living, God, etc. Not denegrating it, or picketing a business
owner's home organized by a a union.