Monday, January 21, 2008
In honor of MLK Day
And in the context of the ongoing discussion about fat acceptance as a civil rights movement, here are some excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail." This particular section addresses the question so often asked in the civil rights movement of the 1960s: Why not just wait, things are getting better, why push it? King's eloquent and beautiful response is moving and righteous.
We still have so long so go for racial equality in this country. And if, as you're reading King's words, you imagine the word fat everywhere he writes Negro, and thin for white, you might get a taste of the work that still needs to be done on other fronts, too.
Letter From Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. . . . I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. 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.
The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. . . . My friends, I must say to you that we have no made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed. . . .
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.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.