50 years later: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' still resonates

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  • TheProudDuck Newport Beach, CA
    April 15, 2013 4:25 p.m.

    "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.

  • george of the jungle goshen, UT
    April 15, 2013 2:50 p.m.

    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.

  • Interloper Portland, OR
    April 14, 2013 12:36 p.m.

    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.

  • Way of the Warrior ARLINGTON, WA
    April 14, 2013 12:12 p.m.

    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.

  • Henry Drummond San Jose, CA
    April 14, 2013 11:08 a.m.

    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.

  • Chachi Charlottesville, VA
    April 14, 2013 10:59 a.m.

    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.

  • I-am-I South Jordan, UT
    April 14, 2013 10:59 a.m.

    If you haven't read the letter, you need to. Truly a remarkable document.

  • Mike in Cedar City Cedar City, Utah
    April 14, 2013 7:18 a.m.

    Thanks for this timely and important commentary.

  • financenco Salt Lake City, UT
    April 14, 2013 6:39 a.m.

    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.