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January 9, 2018 > Martin Luther King, Jr. ? A leader in both substance and style.

Martin Luther King, Jr. ? A leader in both substance and style.

Submitted By Victor Carvellas

On April 12, 1963, Birmingham police arrested the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and threw him in jail. Seizing the moment, King responded to his critics with a lengthy defense of non-violence and the urgent need to act?now known as the ?Letter from Birmingham Jail.? (

Against decades of Jim Crow and in the wake of broken promises of change from Birmingham?s civic and business leaders, on April 3, 1963, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began a series of non-violent marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation, defying Circuit Judge W. A. Jenkins? provocative injunction against ?parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.?

Someone managed to smuggle into the King?s cell a copy of the April 12 newspaper where King read ?A Call for Unity,? a statement drafted by eight white clergymen railing against King and his demonstrations.

King responded to his critics with patience, though there is a certain pedagogical tone. He compares his work to that of the biblical prophets and Paul, not to raise himself to their height, but to demonstrate that the need to preach is still present. His particular message is an indictment of the South?s long-standing injustice toward African-Americans, but he universalizes the message by way of aphorism, stating ?Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.?

When King points out that those church leaders who deplored the demonstrations failed to ?express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstration,? he flatly but respectfully reveals their hypocrisy. Certainly, King knew the clergy would feel the sting of that observation, as surely as when Jesus accused the Pharisees of the same.

The marches and demonstrations were further criticized in the newspaper for creating ?tension.? This was, King notes unapologetically, the intended effect. Negotiations and working through political channels had so far accomplished nothing. It was the ?constructive nonviolent tension? of direct action that gave the movement leverage. For King, tension created dialogue and transcended the white monologue. ?We have not made a single gain in civil rights,? stated King, ?without determined and legal nonviolent pressure.?

There are other themes in the letter, as well, including the moral necessity to disobey unjust laws, the false mythology that time will heal all, and the obstacles presented not by extremists such as the Ku Klux Klan, but by white moderates who are ?more devoted to ?order? than to justice.?

What emerges from the letter most clearly is King?s patience and dedication to both the contemporary struggle and a vision of the future. Perhaps as important is his respect for his audience and his patient point-by-point consideration of his opponents? views. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is worth considering not only King?s purpose and intention, but, in today?s volatile political arena, his thoughtful, intelligent, and considered style.

You can celebrate King?s life on Sunday, January 14 at the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society?s 41st annual Commemoration program. The Rev. Carol Henry is the Keynote Speaker. This year?s theme is ?King: His voice, his teaching, his love for humanity.? Also attending are: Rev. Garrett Yamada, Host Pastor; Mission 24 Church; Mrs. Rita Duncan; Harpist Hannah Chew, Harpist, Angel Hearts; Mrs. Hong and the Newark Memorial Choral Group, Mrs. Zilli and the Music for Minors Choir, the Vukani Mawethu Choir, a display of student artwork, and more.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration
Sunday, Jan 14
3:00 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church of Newark
35450 Newark Blvd (Corner of Cedar Blvd)
For more information (510) 793-8181

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