Luther King as a response to an open letter from eight white Alabaman clergymen namely Bishop N.B. Harmon Jr., Bishop C.C.J. Carpenter, Bishop G. Murray, Bishop J. A. Durick, Bishop P. Hardin Jr., Rabbi M. Grafman, Edward Ramage, and E Stallings who called on King and his allies to forgo of their Birmingham campaigns and protest because it disrupts peace (Baker, 2008). At the onset, Martin Lither King and his fellow African American civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy were detained and arrested in the Jefferson Country Jail because they have violated the city order on civil rights protests. The city commissioner put the two of them in isolation in order to break their spirits but it only strengthened their determination (Asante at al., 2005).
The letter defends the Civil Rights Movements in the name of racial, social, and distributive justice against racial segregation. King argues that even when he was ostracized by the White clergy for civil disobedience, he is justified in his actions (Baker, 2008). He explained the distinction between just and unjust laws. He quoted the works of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas when he expressed his notion that “an unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law… Any law that uplifts the human personality is just. Any law that degrades the human personality is unjust (Charters, 2003: 31)”. The laws that mandate segregation is considered by King as unjust because it “distorts the soul” in accordance to the Declaration of Independence which mandated democracy and equality among all, black and white, men and women, Catholics and Islams. The racial segregation that King is not in favor of is a violation of the rights of the Blacks to equality. It is therefore justified that in any law mandating such inequality should not be tolerated nor obeyed by the people (Baker, 2008).
Asante, M. and Mazama, A. (2005). Encyclopedia of Black Studies. USA: Sage.
Baker, H. (2008). Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil
Rights Era. Oxford: Cambridge UP.
Charters, A. (2003). The Portable Sixties Reader. USA: Penguin Classics.