Passion behind MLK’s letter resonate today

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, last week stood on the floor of the Senate chamber in our U.S. Capitol to read a lengthy passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s letter from Burmingham Jail.

Brown was joined U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania; Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana; Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada; Alex Padilla, D-California; and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, all part of a commemorative reading of the passionate words.

The open letter, penned April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King Jr., insists that people should use their moral responsibility to take action, rather than waiting idly and patiently for orderly justice.

King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In our nation that today is so divided along lines of both race and political party, what a striking bipartisan event this annual reading of the open letter represents!

Said Brown, “Dr. King and the civil rights leaders of his generation did more than just about anyone to push this country to live up to our founding ideals, and make the dream of America real for everyone. Protesting, working for change, organizing, demanding our country do better — those are some of the most patriotic things all of us can do.”

Here is some of the passage from King’s letter from Birmingham Jail, which Sen. Brown read Wednesday:

” … over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says:

‘”I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

“Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

“Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

“We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.

“Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

“In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion?

“Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery?

“Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock?

“Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? …

“I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

“If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood.

“And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as ‘rabble rousers’ and ‘outside agitators’ those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies — a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare. …”

It is imperative that all of us believe in the value and passion of King’s words, and carry on his fight for equality, even today — more than 50 years after he perished from this earth.

“Progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability,” Brown stated this week. “It rolls in because we make it so.”


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