Why King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail is Still Relevant Today.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who requires no introduction, eloquently described the plight of African Americans, as well as the hope he had for a future of equality in the United States. His soaring rhetoric and elaborate prose became the rally cry for an entire generation of African Americans in pursuit of the natural rights they had been deprived of for hundreds of years. During his time as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King continually instructed his affiliates to engage in nonviolent, coordinated civil disobedience in order to create a conversation about the injustices taking place in the United States. While in a prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, the epicenter of racial injustice, King, usually uninterested and unable to respond to critics, breaks precedent by responding to a group of white clergymen who were critical of the protests taking place across the country. His letter, distinct for its scathing review of moderates and white Christians, has shaped the Civil Rights fight since King put pen to paper in April of 1963.

The arrest of, and the subsequent writing by, King came at a critical point in the Civil Rights movement. King, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was in Birmingham, Alabama, to lead non-violent protests. As Birmingham was known as “the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States,” King and his affiliates were determined to spark a conversation about racial discrimination through economic boycotts, sit ins, and public marches. These demonstrations led to his arrest and the arrest of many other protesters. They also led a group of white clergymen to pen a letter stating their dismay with King’s tactics. These clergymen believed King was an outsider, bringing agitation and strife with him. They also believed that, rather than staging protests and demonstrations, King should rely on local negotiation as a means to ending racial discrimination. Finally, the clergyman stated that time would bring about justice, and that King and his followers should be patient and not rush progress. King, disappointed with his fellow clergymen, penned a point for point response in the margins of newspapers and organized his thoughts from his small cell.

In his letter, King addresses the major concerns of the clergymen, while also staking out his reasoning for acting the way he did. King states he went to Birmingham because “injustice is here,” and compared his pilgrimage to several biblical figures who also traveled the world carrying the word of God. Like the Apostle Paul who left his home to carry the “gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world,” King is carrying his creed of freedom across the United States. He also refutes the title of “outsider” by stating that, in actuality, the different communities were interrelated in their quest for justice. King famously states that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and that he could not ignore the plight of Birmingham residents of color while fighting for civil rights in Atlanta.

King goes on to explain why immediate action was required, despite the clergy’s insistence on using negotiation as a tactic for gaining civil rights. On this point, King actually agrees with the clergy, stating that the purpose of direct action is to bring about negotiations. A single gain in civil rights was not made without “determined legal and nonviolent pressure” on the ruling class to reform its practices. Due to the fact that “privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily,” protestors must use nonviolent action in order to create a dialogue concerning the tensions found in specific communities.

The clergymen also criticized Martin Luther King and his affiliates for urging their members to break laws in order to achieve their goals. While King calls this a “legitimate concern,” he refutes their disdain by differentiating between just laws and unjust laws. Just laws, King pontificates, is “a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.” On the other hand, King denounces unjust laws as “a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” King states that the Jim Crow laws and segregationist laws in the south “distorts the soul and damages the personality,” which is cause enough to disobey them. King goes on further in his defense of breaking unjust laws, stating that lawmakers who were undemocratically elected created these laws. Since the African American population was unable to vote for their representatives or voice their opinions, King questions whether those laws could even be considered “democratically structured.” Because of this, King stipulates that it is the obligation of his affiliates to break the unjust laws “openly, lovingly,” and with “the willingness to accept the penalty.”

Going on the offensive, King further denounces the views of “white moderates,” both within and outside of the church. He criticizes their devotion to order over justice, stating that “lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” Despite hope for the support of white moderates, MLK has been frustrated time and time again by their lack of support. Whether preaching from the pulpit, or writing to King, white moderates have consistently called on King to not be in a “religious hurry” to right the wrongs in the United States. In a rare instance of condemnation by this minister and proponent of brotherhood, King states that we will “have to repent in this generation… the appalling silence of good people.” King continues on to point out his disappointment with white moderates and church leaders. In a scathing letter, King confesses that he has never before “written so long a letter,” and apologizes if his letter indicated “an unreasonable impatience” with the clergy he is responding to. Additionally, King closes his letter by hoping the “dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities.”

King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail came at a pivotal point during the Civil Rights movement. Clayborne Carson, the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute and a professor at Stanford University, has discussed several works of King that shaped the civil rights debate during the mid-20th century. Carson stated, in an interview with NPR, that if the campaign in Birmingham had failed, “there would not have been the ‘I Have a Dream speech, because he wouldn’t have been invited to give the concluding speech if he had just failed in a major campaign in Birmingham.” In other words, the success of King and the Civil Rights movement hinged on the outcome of the Birmingham protests, and this letter was King’s main tool in combatting the criticism lunged at him from all sides. Because of King’s success in Birmingham, he was able to rally his supporters all the way to Washington, where he would speak of a world where men were created equal and laws ensured it to be so. King’s letter, along with the countless sacrifices made by individuals across the country, were instrumental in moving the United States away from bigotry and toward equality.

It is important to note that, while civil rights legislation was written in 1964 and 1965, racial discrimination is an issue that still plagues this nation today. In the past four years, during my time at the University of Missouri, several incidents of police brutality and voter ID legislation has shown the degree to which our nation still struggles with racial discrimination. For example, Trayvon Martin, an African American male, was gunned down in a Florida residential neighborhood by George Zimmerman,, a man claiming to be a part of the neighborhood watch. This teenager, whose only crime was being black, never received justice and his murderer was not sent to jail for this incident. Simultaneously, throughout the country, State Legislatures are passing voter ID laws that will make it harder for people of color to vote. The Missouri State Legislature passed a voter ID law that, according to former Secretary of State Jason Kander, would disenfranchise over 220,000 Missourians. Most of these disenfranchised voters would have been African Americans, many of which are underrepresented both at the state and federal levels of government. Jonathan Butler, a former university student, peacefully protested the lack of action by university officials after racially motivated actions by certain students on campus. Many called his actions reckless and unwarranted, and that he should not rush to create tension in the name of equal rights. Clearly, the issues faced by Martin Luther King are not new, nor are the criticisms King faced. As the great debate about racial inequality surges on in town halls and college dormitories, I believe that the words crafted by King in that Birmingham jail cell still ring true today. When refuting the claim that he should wait to spark a debate about civil rights, King refuted this by saying that African Americans have been waiting for 340 years for their “constitutional and God given rights.” While the world looks towards the United States as an example of a functioning democracy, “we still creep at a horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.” Martin Luther King, along with Jonathan Butler and the thousands of protesters who have demonstrated over the past 70 years, are tired of waiting, as should anyone who believes in the doctrine that “all men are created equal.” With King’s letter as a playbook, the fight for racial equality strives on.

 

 

Works Cited

King, Martin Luther, Jr. A letter from a Birmingham jail. Andover, MA: Publisher not identified, 1968. Print.

“Letter From Birmingham Jail: 50 Years Later .” Interview by Michel Martin . Letter From Birmingham Jail: 50 Years Later . NPR . 16 Apr. 2013. Radio. Transcript.

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Why I am supporting Senator Bernie Sanders for President

My life revolves around politics. I wake up in the morning and digest the breaking news, I debate the issues with my friends, and I tend to put my political work at the top of my priority list, sometimes to a fault. While my energy and time has focused on the important issues facing Missouri, I have been watching the Presidential race play out. I have not officially endorsed a candidate until now. I have defended Hillary on some issues, I have supported Bernie on some issues. I even still think Martin O’Malley is an incredible candidate and would make an incredible Vice-President or Cabinet member. I have also changed my mind on who I will cast my first Presidential vote many times. But, after hearing the candidates on a number of issues, sitting through the first Democratic debates, and looking inward on where I stand on the issues, I am ready to officially declare my support for Bernie Sanders. In this post, I will illustrate what pushed me to endorse Senator Sanders, as well as offer a challenge to the Sanders’ campaign.

The three issues that I base my endorsement off of are campaign finance reform, racial inequality, and the environment. Campaign finance reform is a very important and personal issue to me. One of the first campaigns I worked on is the John Wright re-election campaign for State Representative here in Columbia, Missouri. For those who don’t know, John was a strong representative who did phenomenal work on early childhood education, as well as worked across party lines to make government more efficient. I was inspired by him and his work, and campaigned to make sure he was re-elected to the 47th district.

His opponent was Chuck Bayse. To be fair to Mr. Bayse, he is a proud American who served our nation in the US Marines, and is very passionate about the issues he supports. However, Mr. Bayse has also been a problematic figure in his first year in office. One of his only filed bill in the last legislative session was a political favor to his brother, and he also saluted a confederate flag at a ceremony late last year. Obviously both of these points are highly contested, but one point is clear: Bayse is not qualified to represent the 47th district, and should never have beat John. However, he did. One of the biggest reasons for Bayse’s success was a generous donation from Rex Sinquefield. If you live in Missouri, this name is all too familiar. If you live outside of Missouri, he is equivalent to the Koch brothers who purchase their ideal candidates and fund their super PACs.

Because of Sinquefield’s generous donation to his campaign, Bayse was able to defeat Wright by a mere 263 votes. That was a first hand lesson that money DOES play a role in politics. Money is the reason why the champion for early childhood education was replaced by a political novice with rich donors. Ever since that race in 2014, I have been bi-partisan in my skepticism of where candidates get their money. Most candidates do have big donors or groups backing them; and I have continually been told that money is as much a part of politics as baby kissing and hand shaking. But a unique aspect of the Sander’s campaign is the absence of a major Super PAC backing Bernie. He is running in what will be the most expensive Presidential race in history without a Super PAC. Bernie Sander’s receives his support from average Americans who give in 10 or 20 dollar amounts, not successful kingmakers who write checks bigger than my student loan debt (which is abhorrent). That is huge to me, who has personally seen what money can do in politics.

Adversely, Hillary Clinton has struggled on the issue of campaign finance. Specifically, she has been unable to convince me she is not bought and sold by Wall Street. When she was pressed on this issue in one of the Democratic debates, she gave a very awkward and borderline offensive answer, pulling the 9/11 card. Her quote is as follows: “So I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.” Now, I think Clinton is better on campaign finance than conservatives. But I expect her to be, and I expected her to be the best Democratic candidate on the issue. However she has failed in that regard.

Secondly, Sanders earned my endorsement on inequality seen in the United States. I was on campus during the Concerned Student 1950 movement earlier this fall. And I proudly camped with the protestors who were calling for a change of the status quo at the University of Missouri and across the nation. I did this because of a simple truth: there is racial inequality in our nation and it needs to be fixed. I could write several posts about racial inequality, from racist real estate zoning to how we draw our congressional districts. However, I will save that for another day. The reason Bernie has earned my endorsement is for his focus on inequality in our nation. If nothing else, Bernie has helped shine the light on the issue of inequality during this campaign. In every stump speech given, he discusses the disappearance of the middle class and how 20 Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of Americans. Sanders understands the obstacles facing those trying to improve their lives. I believe he will work to address the reasons why the “American Dream” is harder to achieve than ever before for minorities and those stuck in poverty.

Once again, Hillary Clinton has fallen short on this important issue. She has continued to make strides to reach out to minority communities, sometimes in inappropriate fashion. Switching her logo to reach those who celebrate Kwanzaa, as well as her “7 ways Hillary is like your abuela” post was tone deaf and did not address the issues facing minorities in America. Additionally, her answer on “what is white privilege” at a recent forum was severely disappointing. Clinton’s answer can be found at this link:  The problem with Clinton’s answer was that she was unable to define what white privilege really is. She may recognize she is “lucky,” but she does not recognize that the luck she faced was systematic and is something that millions of Americans will never have because of the color of their skin.

And finally, the stances of the candidates on the environment has led to my support of Bernie Sanders. Now to be completely honest, Martin O’Malley really beats the rest on this issue. His plan to pull the United States away from oil and to be 100% dependent on green energy by 2050 is astounding, bold, and should be a model for the next Administration. I think the fight against climate change is going to need someone who will stand up to “Big Oil” and “Big Coal” and say that enough is enough. I think the fight against climate change will need a President who does not fold when the biggest polluters of our time threaten them with a political opponent. I can see Bernie Sanders doing both of those things and doing them well.

These are the issues that have driven my endorsement for Bernie Sanders. However, there is an emotional side to my endorsement. I worked for the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012. The reason I supported President Obama was because of how his speeches and his policies moved me. He was my introduction into political life, and he is the reason I am devoting my life to public service. When I look at the three candidates running for President on the Democratic side, Bernie is most like President Obama in this regard. He has the authenticity of Obama, the tenacity and spirit of Joe Biden, and has helped restore my faith in the political process.

Additionally, I applaud boldness. I have heard the argument that Bernie has no chance and that Hillary is the “electable candidate.” For a long time, Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite who had no chance of being beat. So why run against her? What is the point of running if she will win? However, I do not believe we should vote based on who will win the nomination or the general election. I believe we should be bold with out vote, and be bold with how we pick our candidates. It was a bold move for President Obama to run against Hillary in 2008. It was bold of President Obama to announce sweeping healthcare reform and announce an executive action on gun control. The Presidency needs someone who is bold, strong,  and willing to fight every day to perfect our union. I think Bernie Sanders is bold, and can continue to be bold behind the Resolute Desk.

I tried my hardest to like Hillary Clinton. I recognize her years of service, and I applaud everything she has done  during her career. Before her campaign kicked off, I was Ready for Hillary. Even as President of the College Democrats of Missouri, I foolishly pushed to endorse her as an organization and was luckily talked down by the executive board.  But as the campaign has gone on, and as I have learned more about the candidates, I have had a change of heart. I am not impressed with Hillary the candidate, but Bernie has continued to impress at every debate, forum and town hall. I have also learned that I should not have to try to like a candidate. A favorability for a candidate should come naturally, and should not be forced. I genuinely like Bernie Sanders and the platform he has put together.

Now, Bernie Sanders is not the perfect nominee. None of them are. I recognize his weaknesses as much as his strengths. So I call on Bernie Sanders to show several attributes to me during this primary election:  I want him to show me that he can unite the nation on important issues, while still standing strong on the fundamental ones. Show me that you can raise the minimum wage in America to 10 dollars, even if that goes against your 15 dollar platform. Show me that your willing to go through the budget and find departments that deserve to be cut, while also standing up for government services that are vital for national prosperity. Show me that you can be diplomatic, while also showing you are not afraid to demonstrate military force when necessary. Be Presidential, Bernie Sanders. Let me see how you can interact with the other party, and that you can get real work done during your Presidency. If he accomplishes this, I believe he can win the nomination and the general election.

 

Missouri Legislature, Raise the Minimum Wage

Earlier this year, the City Council for Kansas City voted to increase the minimum wage within city limits to $13 an hour. The ordinance was later repealed and replaced with a plea to the Missouri State Legislature for a minimum wage hike. In St. Louis, the city approved an $11 hour minimum wage that would have taken effect if it had been upheld in circuit court. In the past year the two major cities in Missouri have worked to increase the minimum wage for it’s citizens. This has taken place for one simple reason: Missourians need a raise. Below, I will outline why it is imperative that the Missouri Legislature vote to increase the minimum  wage, as well as why I praise the local leaders who are working to make this happen.

I am a junior at Mizzou, and work at the University bookstore. Now, for full disclosure, I make ABOVE minimum wage (8.75 an hour). My bills and monthly expenses are as follows:

  • Car payment and Insurance: $365
  • Rent and Utilities: $390
  • Food, gas and other groceries: $125

Just with these three costs, my bills total up to $880 a month. This does not include any other extraneous costs, such as school supplies, textbooks, and day-to-day costs. Now, remember, I make $1.10 above minimum wage. If I wanted to simply pay my bills, without any extra money in my bank account at the end of the month, I would need to work an average of 30 hours a week. Now, 30 hours a week does not seem terrible. However, when you add 15 credit hours for school, hours of volunteering and interning, and the necessary studying needed to maintain good grades, 30 hours of work becomes more and more difficult. And 30 hours a week just barely covers my bills. I have no money to begin a savings account, or any money for emergencies.

The most problematic fact about this? I am lucky. I am lucky that the University pays me $1.10 more than the minimum wage. I am lucky that I only have to take care of myself. I have only one person to feed and one person to clothe. I am lucky that no one in my family is sick or unable to sustain themselves. And I am lucky that sickness or some other unforeseen accident hasn’t kept me from working. However, there are people out there who are not so lucky. There are single mothers who work around the clock to put food on the table and buy school supplies for their kids. There are college students out there who struggle in school because their finminimum_wage_3ancial struggles take priority over their studies. For students who aren’t fortunate enough to attend college, obtaining wealth and building a strong financial foundation is nearly impossible with skyrocketing bills and a stagnant wages.

Now, it is obvious that local leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City see this problem. They see the families struggling, and have offered a solution. Both municipalities, through different means, managed to work out a plan to raise the minimum wage. The problem? The Missouri State Legislature is upset that progress is being made at the city level. In the past legislative session, the Legislature voted and passed a measure banning cities from enacting their own minimum wage laws. The proponents of this legislation believed that raising the minimum wage in only parts of the state will move businesses away from the cities and lead to unemployment in the city.

The logic behind this makes sense. It would make sense for businesses to move to places with lower minimum wages. Lower wages means lower overhead cost, which means higher profits. However, the real world results have shown the opposite. New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles have all raised the minimum wage above the state level. And none of the cities have seen massive layoffs and businesses run for the hills. In fact, it can be argued that these cities have thrived with the extra income being pumped into the economy. So the main complaint against city level minimum wage hikes is not true.

The simple truth is this: if the Legislature is not going to allow cities to increase their own minimum wage laws, then the Legislature needs to raise the minimum wage statewide. Personally,  I think there is room for compromise between both parties in this issue. Proponents of a wage hike have called for a hike to $15 an hour. This would be almost double the current minimum wage, which would ultimately force struggling small businesses to close. However, at the current $7.65 an hour, minimum wage workers do not make enough money to stimulate the economy in any significant way, making it difficult for small businesses to attract customers who are attracted to the low prices of big businesses. So, lets find a middle ground. Let’s find a minimum wage that simultaneously stimulates the economy while also putting more money in the pockets of workers and businesses. President Obama has suggested a raise to $10.10 an hour for minimum wage workers. This hike seems reasonable, yet also significant enough to help low wage workers. With this hike, consumers would have more money to pay bills, buy essential products, and stimulate the economy with excess spending. However, this hike would be manageable for businesses to meet, and would bring more consumers in who have new disposable income.

The public outcry and need for a wage increase is there. The economic benefit can be seen. Now it is just time for political leaders in Jefferson City to have the backbone necessary to enact this modest wage hike.

I would like to thank the city leaders in Kansas City and St. Louis for working towards a minimum wage hike.minwage-100dollars-basicneeds-jan2014

-Evan