Lonnie G. Bunch III: On MLK’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham City Jail’

tags: Martin Luther King, MLK, Washington Post, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Lonnie G. Bunch III



Bunch is the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

 While we pause in 2013 to remember historic milestones – both fortunate and unfortunate – in the tumultuous fight for justice in America, some of those actions and messages of 50 years ago retain clear lessons for today.

 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  50 years ago this month, was a powerful call to action then, and gives us talking points for today’s heated social and political discussions. And I need to underscore talking because King gave us a document that was so respectful and, so totally without rancor, pointedly answering his critics who thought the peaceful actions against injustice in Birmingham were unwise.  Today’s leaders in the loud, omnipresent, electronic public square need a refresher in King’s approach.

The Letter, which started out written on scraps of paper and newspaper edges, was on one hand a call to action, but a call to action to make America better. He asked his critics, mainly the white clergymen who had publicly denounced his leadership and the movement’s tactics, why aren’t you being more active to live up to Judeo-Christian principles and the vision of America’s founding fathers?  That was the goal of King’s protests, his interracial team of activists, and the black citizens of Birmingham.   And isn’t that the goal today for people across the political and economic spectrums – to have a better life and restore America as a leader in the world? In King’s words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”...



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