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Essay on MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail for Philosophy Class

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Margaret Caulkins Philosophy 111 Professor Gandolfo October 17, 2010 Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham Jail Upon Martin Luther King Jr.'s imprisonment in Birmingham, eight white Alabama ministers published a statement arguing that King did not belong in Birmingham, and that the battle to end racial segregation was one that belonged solely in the courtrooms. These ministers considered King's actions "unwise and untimely." Four days after this statement, King responded to this statement with his legendary open letter Letter From Birmingham Jail. King's longest letter argues several issues, though he focuses on a few key issues more than others. His main arguments concern his presence in Birmingham, his arguments for nonviolent civil disobedience, and just versus unjust laws. One of the first points King explains is his presence in Birmingham. King points out his connection with the SCLC, and its affiliation with organizations across the South, including those in Birmingham. ...read more.


By referencing moral authorities in his arguments, King does present a bit of a contradiction. It's interesting that he feels the need to invoke authority to incite others to go against authority. King then brings up his arguments for nonviolent civil disobedience. He points out that there have been no definitive victories for civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. This nonviolent pressure is only put into action after all other efforts at negotiation have failed. These actions are necessary because a privileged group is unlikely to relinquish their privileges on their own accord; they need to be pushed to see the immorality of their acts. These groups need to be pushed to negotiate. Kings says that "the purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation." King bolsters his argument for civil disobedience with several examples. ...read more.


King argues that "an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." King is saying that by disobeying unjust laws in an attempt to alert the community of their lack of morality and fairness is truly showing the highest respect for the law, by seeking to purify it. The attempt to thwart an unjust law is actually an effort to restore natural law and God's moral order to the body of law as a whole, making the action a just one. This argument does seem to justify actions taken by groups such as the Black Panthers, and other pro-violence civil rights groups. King addresses these claims by adeptly using analogy once again. Most strongly, King argues that this is similar to condemning Jesus. King says that following that logic, Jesus' "unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion." ...read more.

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