Further notes on “Letter from Birmingham jail”

I am working my way through the letter Dr. King wrote in 1963 and started HERE.

More notes from my walk through the letter this year.

From the letter:

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

Monologue is still what we mostly do. We argue with straw men at best. It is rare when I find objections raised by fellow white believers about civil unrest or racism that they have Black friends or perhaps have even visited a Black church or had an uncomfortable conversation with Black friends. We love to formulate arguments, then knock them down. We are glad to find those who agree with our arguments and will then engage THEM more.

The letter answers the concerns of the white moderates to “give it time.” Ironically, 59 years later we are STILL giving that excuse to the Black community!

King gives the litany of grievances that he is still waiting for in HIS lifetime:

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.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

That paragraph is still the most moving of the whole piece.

And what do we demand of the Black community still today? Time. 59 years later and I believe the cup of endurance has more than run over the abyss of despair is still present.

Black brothers and sisters are still killed with impunity. Sure, Ahmaud Arbery’s killers found justice, when the video was leaked. What other crimes do we NOT know about?

Black children are still harassed and followed through stores because they are shopping while Black.

Black communities are still denied basic services and told it is their problem.

And still … still… we have the audacity to say, “Give it time.”

I’m tired of the goal post moving. I’m tired of the legit evidence being a video. I’m tired of always doubting first and demanding even more evidence. I’m tired of asking Black friends to explain the situation of racism again.

We are not looking out for the good of others. We are not loving our brothers and sisters. And I am constantly challenged by Dr. King and his profound words to me.

Letter from Birmingham Jail - Equity Toolkit

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