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Friday, April 4, 2008

Notable Quotes from King's Birmingham Letter

Our Interconnectedness


...I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states... We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. (660)


Creating "Tension"/Awakening our Fellows


Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for non-violent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. (660)


Justice, Individuals & Groups


...it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Neibuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. (660)


Oppression


We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.(660)


The Limits of Endurance


There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.(660)


Just and Unjust Laws


An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. (662)


Time & Social Change


...time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. (664)


Oppression (2)


Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself... (665)


Being Extremists


...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice of for the extension of justice? (666)


The Church & Its Moral/Social Obligation


There can be no deep disappointment where there is no deep love... I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.


There was a time when the church was very powerful... In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society... Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." (668)


- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in Pamela J. Annas & Robert C. Rosen, eds., Against the Current: Readings for Writers (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1998), pp. 657-671.

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