NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Anyone who lives inside the U.S. can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds”

Today is Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Day, and like we do every year in hon­or of Dr. King’s mem­o­ry, I’m post­ing an excerpt from his Let­ter From Birm­ing­ham Jail.

In these pas­sages, Dr. King is explain­ing to a group of fel­low cler­gy who want­ed to con­fine the bat­tle against seg­re­ga­tion to the courts that injus­tice any­where is a threat to jus­tice every­where. We have a moral oblig­a­tion to con­front injus­tice wher­ev­er it may rear its ugly head — and not just through legal means.

We may have region­al and cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences, and the laws of our indi­vid­ual states may vary, but in the end, we are one coun­try, one Unit­ed set of States. (E pluribus unum!) Accord­ing­ly, Dr. King says that no Amer­i­can can be con­sid­ered to be an out­sider with­in the bound­aries of their own country.

Here’s Dr. King. (Note that typos are con­tained in the orig­i­nal manuscript.)

I am in Birm­ing­ham because injus­tice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth cen­tu­ry B.C. left their vil­lages and car­ried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the bound­aries of their home towns, and just as the Apos­tle Paul left his vil­lage of Tar­sus and car­ried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far cor­ners of the Gre­co Roman world, so am I com­pelled to car­ry the gospel of free­dom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must con­stant­ly respond to the Mace­don­ian call for aid.

More­over, I am cog­nizant of the inter­re­lat­ed­ness of all com­mu­ni­ties and states. I can­not sit idly by in Atlanta and not be con­cerned about what hap­pens in Birm­ing­ham. Injus­tice any­where is a threat to jus­tice every­where. We are caught in an inescapable net­work of mutu­al­i­ty, tied in a sin­gle gar­ment of des­tiny. What­ev­er affects one direct­ly, affects all indi­rect­ly. Nev­er again can we afford to live with the nar­row, provin­cial “out­side agi­ta­tor” idea. Any­one who lives inside the Unit­ed States can nev­er be con­sid­ered an out­sider any­where with­in its bounds.

You deplore the demon­stra­tions tak­ing place in Birm­ing­ham. But your state­ment, I am sor­ry to say, fails to express a sim­i­lar con­cern for the con­di­tions that brought about the demon­stra­tions. I am sure that none of you would want to rest con­tent with the super­fi­cial kind of social analy­sis that deals mere­ly with effects and does not grap­ple with under­ly­ing caus­es. It is unfor­tu­nate that demon­stra­tions are tak­ing place in Birm­ing­ham, but it is even more unfor­tu­nate that the city’s white pow­er struc­ture left the Negro com­mu­ni­ty with no alternative.

In any non­vi­o­lent cam­paign there are four basic steps: col­lec­tion of the facts to deter­mine whether injus­tices exist; nego­ti­a­tion; self purifi­ca­tion; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birm­ing­ham. There can be no gain­say­ing the fact that racial injus­tice engulfs this com­mu­ni­ty. Birm­ing­ham is prob­a­bly the most thor­ough­ly seg­re­gat­ed city in the Unit­ed States. Its ugly record of bru­tal­i­ty is wide­ly known. Negroes have expe­ri­enced gross­ly unjust treat­ment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bomb­ings of Negro homes and church­es in Birm­ing­ham than in any oth­er city in the nation.

These are the hard, bru­tal facts of the case. On the basis of these con­di­tions, Negro lead­ers sought to nego­ti­ate with the city fathers. But the lat­ter con­sis­tent­ly refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last Sep­tem­ber, came the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with lead­ers of Birm­ing­ham’s eco­nom­ic com­mu­ni­ty. In the course of the nego­ti­a­tions, cer­tain promis­es were made by the mer­chants — for exam­ple, to remove the stores’ humil­i­at­ing racial signs.

On the basis of these promis­es, the Rev­erend Fred Shut­tlesworth and the lead­ers of the Alaba­ma Chris­t­ian Move­ment for Human Rights agreed to a mora­to­ri­um on all demonstrations.

As the weeks and months went by, we real­ized that we were the vic­tims of a bro­ken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the oth­ers remained. As in so many past expe­ri­ences, our hopes had been blast­ed, and the shad­ow of deep dis­ap­point­ment set­tled upon us.

We had no alter­na­tive except to pre­pare for direct action, where­by we would present our very bod­ies as a means of lay­ing our case before the con­science of the local and the nation­al community.

Mind­ful of the dif­fi­cul­ties involved, we decid­ed to under­take a process of self purifi­ca­tion. We began a series of work­shops on non­vi­o­lence, and we repeat­ed­ly asked our­selves: “Are you able to accept blows with­out retal­i­at­ing?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?”

We decid­ed to sched­ule our direct action pro­gram for the East­er sea­son, real­iz­ing that except for Christ­mas, this is the main shop­ping peri­od of the year.

Know­ing that a strong eco­nom­ic-with­draw­al pro­gram would be the by prod­uct of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pres­sure to bear on the mer­chants for the need­ed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birm­ing­ham’s may­oral elec­tion was com­ing up in March, and we speed­i­ly decid­ed to post­pone action until after elec­tion day. When we dis­cov­ered that the Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Safe­ty, Eugene “Bull” Con­nor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decid­ed again to post­pone action until the day after the run off so that the demon­stra­tions could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many oth­ers, we wait­ed to see Mr. Con­nor defeat­ed, and to this end we endured post­pone­ment after postponement.

Hav­ing aid­ed in this com­mu­ni­ty need, we felt that our direct action pro­gram could be delayed no longer.

Take a few min­utes today to read the whole thing.

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