So I was going to write about MLK day on, well, MLK Day. But then I had the thing that made me do a reprint.
So then I didn’t.
And today, I was going to, but I’ve been led by jerks (Creeps and jerks, remember?) to post about the thing that led to the reprint in the first place.
Which I may still.
But then I ran into Curious C’s post about a belated Martin Luther King Day, and I just couldn’t help it.
Of course, I had heard of Martin Luther King growing up. Not always in a positive way, mind you, but I’d heard. What an amazing civil rights leader he was, the story of his march, this and that sort of thing.
It wasn’t until I went back to college that I actually read anything by him. It was in philosophy, and we read from the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” (An archive of the letter can be found here.)
This amazing letter seriously charged me. Martin Luther King, Jr., was more than a civil rights leader, more than someone who was calling for racial equality.
He was someone who was calling for transcendence.
Of course, that’s not how I read him two years ago. I read him as an impassioned civil rights leader, an educated man, and a spiritual one.
I’ve had two years between the first time I’d read him and now. But reading through, I am struck by several things.
Actually, I keep going back to it, and my head is all over the place, so instead of offering an interpretation (of which I’m clearly incapable right now), I’ll instead follow C’s example and pull some quotations.
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.
In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.
And lastly. This last passage, while directly regarding blacks, clearly (to me, at least) transcends worldly and racial issues. When race is removed from it, Dr. King’s message moves from the particular to the universal, in a big, big, big way.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.
And this is why I pity those who dismiss others because of the color of their skin. First of all, they will never know the words of Dr. King other than the oft-repeated (and mocked) “I have a dream.” Or Langston Hughes. Or Charles Chesnutt.
Or the guy next door.
Second of all, and perhaps more importantly, they’ll never know anything beyond surface-level.
They kid themselves if they think it’s merely race related.
And that breaks my heart.