Letter From Birmingham Jail: Important quotes with page
1. “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B. C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my hometown. ” (Page 86) King’s Christian faith was an essential part of his engagement with the Civil Rights Movement.
In this quote, he explains that his involvement in the protests in Birmingham place him squarely in the tradition of Christians who went from place to place, some very far from the homes, to preach the gospel. King’s gospel in this case is a social and political one that agitates for freedom.
2. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with a narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.
Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. ” (Page 87) In this quote, King uses the concept of the interrelatedness of all communities to make the argument that supposed outsiders like King are actually insiders because inequality is a national issue. This argument is also designed to defend against a frequent accusation that segregationists made against activists, namely that they were outside agitators who had no business meddling in affairs in communities outside of their own.
3. “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. ” (Page 87) One of the criticisms to which King responds is that the Birmingham protests are untimely. In this quote, he counters this argument by arguing that the protests were simply the next logical step in the process. This quote is just one of many examples of King’s use of appeals to reason.
4. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. ” (Page 91) In this quote, King makes an argument for the more militant, assertive stance of the protestors for civil rights. This stance is a direct response to critics who believed the easing of inequality would happen without direct intervention by activists.
5. “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 nonviolent 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. ” (Page 90) In this quote, King establishes credibility for his position by using a respected figure, Socrates, as an example of the role irritants like King can play in improving society.
6. “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. ’” (Page 91-92) By placing the African-American struggle for freedom in the context of centuries of waiting, King helps the audience to see that the struggle for liberation is understandably urgent.
By pointing out that international movements for liberation are also on the rise, King helps the reader to understand the U. S. is far behind. This quote is also an example of the interrelatedness of movements at home and abroad.
7. “[T]here 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. ” (Page 93) King uses an appeal to logic to distinguish between the two kinds of laws in order to avoid any appearance of hypocrisy arising out the protestors’ insistence that segregationists follow the law and their own willingness to break the law.
8. “Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake […] In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience. ” (Page 96) King references Christian and American examples of civil disobedience to help the clergymen understand that the actions of the protestors are not extreme at all.
By using sources of authority that align with the beliefs of his audience, King makes it more likely that the clergymen will be won over to his perspective.
9. “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. ” (Page 97) An important purpose of this essay is to mobilize not only African-Americans but also white moderates, who had been sitting on the sidelines of the Civil Rights Movement.
In this quote, King directly criticizes white moderates using hyperbole (overstatement) to drive home the point that their complacency and attitude toward African-Americans are part of the problem.
10. “Human progress never rolls in on 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. ” (Page 99) King uses metaphors associated with movement and inertia to show that active engagement in the struggle for freedom, rather than passivity, will lead to change.
11. “[I]f 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. ” (Page 101) King makes a pragmatic argument here by forcing the members of the audience to consider the alternative to nonviolent resistance: violent resistance. This is an effective move because even people who were not in favor of nonviolent resistance would likely prefer it to black violence, a deep-seated fear of whites that dates all the way back to slave revolts.
12. “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 […] 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. ” (Page 101)
King connects the movement for civil rights to international liberation movements, in orderto naturalize it. In addition, King obliquely references the idea of natural law, the basis for self-government that is referenced in important foundational documents of American democracy, such as the Declaration of Independence.
13. “But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. ” (Page 107) King assumes a more emotional tone when he discusses the failure of the church to show up for the Civil Rights Movement. His expressions of disappointment would likely move the primary audience, composed of clergymen, to shame, and thus make them more sympathetic to his position.
14. “I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. ” (Page 110) A key intervention in much of King’s writing is in the representation of African-Americans. While African-Americans were frequently presented as passive and inferior, King uses the figure of the African-American protester to recast them as heroic and deserving of respect.
15. “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty. ” (Page 112) King uses an extended metaphor to end the essay on a lighter, more hopeful note that contrasts with the denunciations, directed in part at his primary audience, of the key paragraphs.