The letter from Birmingham Jail is a response by Dr King to statements by eight Alabama Clergymen denouncing the use of street protests by Dr King’s organization in the fight for civil liberty. Critics of Dr King’s philosophy on civil disobedience argue that the actions of his organization are well against civil law but in his letter, Dr. King tries to persuade the opposition about the relevance of street protests or civil disobedience in the fight for equality for all people.
He expresses his opposition to segregation from a moral perspective, logical perspective as well as an emotional plea to sway an audience into action in a quest to achieve civil liberty and equal rights for Black people. Although the letter was a direct reply to the clergymen’s statements, it served a broader purpose by also reaching out to the large middle class which was composed mainly of moderate white Americans. In his response, Dr King uses a subtle and persuasive approach in an attempt to sway critics of his philosophical views on civil disobedience.
By writing the letter, Dr Kings intent was to sway individuals who held opposing views from his, bringing all together to share an understanding. Knowing that the middle class comprises mainly of moderate Americans who are opposed to extreme views and actions and very much inline with religious beliefs and values, Dr Kings utilized this avenue to challenge the conscience of the group. Evidence of this is shown in the letter where he writes: “Must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with ou in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season. " Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. ”
This shows that he is in touch with the views of his audience giving him the ability to make a great impact on the reader. The opposition held the view that civil disobedience and street protest were unjust, simply because it was against the law. Laws are principles and regulations that are established in a community by some authority and is applicable it people. I believe that argument posed by Dr King’s opposition is that there is no justification to breaking a law.
However, in my opinion there could be moral justifications in breaking a law depending on the nature of the situation. Hence, I concur with Dr King’s philosophical view on civil disobedience. “To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. ”(M. L. K, 1963, April 16) The African American civil rights movement used civil disobedience as a means of getting their voice heard by the masses and opposition. Those protests are justifiable from a moral standpoint in that African Americans unjustifiably had their rights denied by their oppressors and used civil disobedience as a means to acquire their God-given rights.
According to my beliefs, it is immoral to go against the rule of law without legitimate necessity but it is morally justifiable to do so in due cause such as the case of Dr King and the African American Civil Rights movement. Accordingly, there is also a logical perspective to civil disobedience which Dr King also uses eloquently in his letter. He addressed the statements made by the clergymen which called his actions “unwise and untimely”.