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The Guardians of Democracy

Comey: ‘On MLK Day, I Like To Read His Letter From Birmingham Jail, Which Still Resonates’

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Comey: ‘On MLK Day, I Like To Read His Letter From Birmingham Jail, Which Still Resonates’




Former FBI Director James Comey on Monday tweeted out his favorite quote from Martin Luther King Jr. referring to the “dark clouds of racial prejudice.”

“On MLK day, I like to read his Letter From Birmingham Jail, which still resonates,” Comey tweeted.

“‘Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away… and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation…'”




Last week, Comey tweeted an excerpt from the “New Colossus,” the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, in response to President Trump reportedly referring to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries.”

As The Washington Post notes, Rev. King began to write his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in the margins of newspapers, on scraps of paper, paper towels and slips of yellow legal paper smuggled into his cell, “where he was kept in solitary confinement after being arrested April 12, 1963, on charges of violating Alabama’s law against mass public demonstrations.”

The Post adds: “The day after his arrest, eight prominent white clergy members placed an ad in the Birmingham News, accusing King of being an outside agitator whose demonstrations were “unwise and untimely.” Infuriated by their words, King unleashed his literary wrath on the clergymen. Writing with the light from the sun that fell through the cell’s bars, King quoted from memory biblical passages and quotes from Socrates, Martin Luther, Thomas Jefferson, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine to bolster his argument.”

Read his letter in full, below:

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, 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 home towns, 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 own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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 the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

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. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.




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