Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston



Monday, January 19, 2015


Today we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King.  We owe much to him and his courage in fighting for civil rights for all American citizens.  He gave his life in service to that cause.  We all continue to hope that his dream for universal civil rights will be accorded to our LGBT citizens. And we are thankful that the unalienable right to universal health care is settled law, for without access to affordable health care, our citizens cannot pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness.  

"[D]espite uncertainty and in the midst of profound changes in the two fields, health and human rights are increasingly understood and felt to be—actually—two entirely complementary ways of speaking about—and working to ameliorate—human suffering in all its forms and whenever it occurs. We share a confidence in the future—and in our ability to contribute—each in our own ways and yet together to the healing of the world. Martin Luther King, perhaps the greatest American of [the 20th] century, said "the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. ..." This is our modesty, also our boldness, also our aspiration—and together we form a multitude." --Jonathan Mann, MD, MPH

Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham jail:

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. 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. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. 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.

Let us consider a more concrete example of 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. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"


skudrunner said...

He was the last black Leader who tried to inspire people to raise above repression. It is unfortunate there is not one present day minority leader who inspires people to be great but just blame others for their failures.

Shaw Kenawe said...

You are making that opinion through a contemporary lens. You must not forget that a majority of southerners believed MLK was a Communist sympathizer and nothing more than a trouble maker, seeking to glorify himself.

You have no idea who is working right now for social justice for people of all races. Just because no one is making headlines, that does not mean people are not out there doing what they can to move this country forward on race relations.


The once solidly Republican state of New Hampshire was dead set against an MLK federal holiday, as was Republican Sen. John McCain, who voted against it twice.

Also, before anyone comes here claiming Dr. King was a Republican, just read his writings where he said he believed in reparations for African-Americans, supported unions, and was against the Vietnam war. None of those issues were supported by the Republican Party.

Shaw Kenawe said...

People can begin reading about The Radical Gospel of Martin Luther King, then people can come back and tell us about how he was a "Republican."

Rational Nation USA said...

King was both a remarkable and courageous man. Folks today would do well to emulate his example. By this I mean people of all races and cultures.

BTW, speaking only for myself, who gives a damn what party King chose to belong to? That is irrelevant skudrunner.

skudrunner said...

I take exception to the majority of southerners comment because you are looking through a myopic lens and lumping all southerners into the same basket.

I do agree that no one has an idea who is working now for social justice. There are many who have objections to a MLK day because it singles out one individual. We have a presidents day that recognizes all presidents, maybe a social significant day to honor all those who have made a significant difference in our country.

RN, where did I say anything about any party? You are going off the rails on that comment. I don't know what party he was with nor do I care. He was about people not political party.

Shaw Kenawe said...

From The Daily Beast:

King deserves a holiday in his honor, and Lee does not. That’s as it should be, since King did everything he could to make all Americans equal and Lee was on the wrong side of the conflict that more than any other tore the country apart. Which is not to say that there’s not every good reason to study Lee, one of the most problematic individuals in our nation’s history. But celebrating him, in the name of “heritage” or anything else, that’s another thing entirely.

The coincidence of Martin Luther King Day and Lee’s birthday falling on the same day is unsettling, but it’s fitting, too. It makes you think about all the parts of our past that don’t fit together easily. Southerners especially should be comfortable with this sort of awkwardness, since most of us, black and white, have grown up with it.

In my case, it meant growing up around people who occasionally dropped the N-word, which in turn meant reconciling my ideas about people I loved with things I hated. It’s not an easy thing to do. I spent a lot of time identifying with Faulkner’s Quentin Compson (“I don’t hate the South. I don’t hate. I don’t hate it.”). But as painful as the experience was, it taught me a lot about the genuine complexity of the country I live in.

With that in mind, I think that for all the awkwardness that ensues, it’s salutary when Lee and King occasionally collide calendrically. They might not have a lot in common to talk about, but the rest of us surely do.

Rational Nation USA said...

My error, please accept my apology on that one. I was responding to Shaw's link. Don't know how I confused that with your comment earlier.

Tough dat I guess.

Sleesa said...

OMG! So sick of these tea-morons. How about the lower you go in the gutter,the sleezier you get? I know sleeze, BTW.

Ducky's here said...

There are many who have objections to a MLK day because it singles out one individual.

Yes, the leader of the movement that brought basic human rights to millions in America without firing a shot despite the considerable violence heaped on him and others.

I'd say that's worth acknowledging.
Maybe you're still hung up on those photos from J. Edgar Hoover of Doctor King at a communist training camp.

You and Knuckles" McCain, eh Skud?