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Thursday, November 10, 2016

MLK, Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait

While reading Jonathan Kozol's **Savage Inequalities**, it quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait. I realize that I had never read Martin Luther King Jr.'s, "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." Shame on me. I ordered a beat up paper back of his larger book, and I settled in one day to catch up on some long-missed copy.

This treaties contains several pieces of writing by Martin Luther King Jr. surrounding the events of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He lays out his rationale for why Birmingham, why now, and his writings follow us through the events of the sit-ins at Woolworth counters and boycotts of stores during the Easter season of that year. He discusses the planning stages, the performance stages, and just hopes for what will ultimately come out of these actions. It's a defining piece of writing that encompasses the story the children of all generations know.

Historically speaking, this book was absolutely fascinating and I found myself with my pen in my hands repeatedly underlining and nodding along with his work. He makes some very valid arguments as to why the civil rights movement could not have move slowly. When you have lived under a system of oppression for decades, millennia, how do you wait just a little bit longer for justice? The answer is that you don't. We know that Martin Luther King Junior was arrested with the protesters, but reading about his choice to be arrested was particularly interesting. Sometimes I felt his narrative was a little self-serving, but, if you are MLK, I guess it can be. After he was arrested, he writes a letter from Birmingham jail. It was far more moving than I ever could have imagined. He lays out the argument for desegregation from a moral perspective and his writing could make any more sense if he rewrote it today. I felt while reading this narrative but the more things change, the more they stay the same. He could have written this letter in 2016 and not 1963. It's been 50 years, and what have we learned? Not a whole lot it seems.

I find the argument that many who are anti-Black Lives Matter protests use, which is that MLK, Jr. wouldn't approve of the protests because he was a "peaceful guy" to be simply absurd. I just simply reply, "Well, clearly, you have never read his writing." He was a proponent of civil disobedience which, I would like to point out, is far from peaceful. He was a protester as much as he was a preacher. That comes through in this work -- in his very own words. 

I also particularly enjoyed his argument about using protest and civil disobedience to spark change in the government, since we know that the change in the hearts of the majority population didn't necessarily happen, nor has it really, even to this day. You can see it if you just turn on the news. He says that you may view protest as wrong, and breaking the law particularly in light of not having a permit is just as bad as segregation, but it's not. It's a moral issue, one that must be addressed swiftly and a sharply. I'm happy that I picked up this book when I did, and it will stay on my shelf for me to constantly refer back to. While I don't consider myself a Christian, and that's a discussion for another time, I do very much relate to his argument that it desegregation is a Christian issue. Wouldn't we say that it still is today? You wouldn't know based on our current political climate. My, my, how the more things change, the more they stay the same…

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