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Jovanh Pham

Writing 37, Fall 2017

Professor Delany-Ullman

December 3, 2017

King Versus the Clergymen: The Importance of Protecting Race in Order to Reach


Race is a diverse, ongoing topic that has been relevant throughout society ever since the

beginning of time. Some view race as an internal specialty, while others focus on the color of

peoples skin. Race is important to American society today, specifically people of color, because

race provides background- a foundation for individuals to culturally and spiritually identify with,

whether it be through music, dance, holidays, food, traditions, clothing, and more. Here in the

United States, racism has been a negative trend throughout the past 300 years. Even though

slavery has been abolished, people still manage to display acts of prejudice through hate crimes,

protests, and actions as simple as derogatory name-calling. Rosa Parks, an African American

Civil Rights activist who refused to give up her seat for a White man in 1955, identified that,

Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and

hopefully we shall overcome. Revolutionaries like Parks and Mahatma Gandhi influenced one

of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Era, Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr was a social activist who fought for African American rights

during the 1960s. He peacefully protested and contributed to the legislature such as the Voting

Rights Act. His 1963 text Letter from Birmingham Jail was a response written to the

hypocritical clergyman who addressed his rights, but sought out to do nothing to help him with

his unfair disadvantages. He wrote the 7000 word text in his jail cell. The piece is considered

public discourse because it was an open letter written from a personal perspective and was

intended for the clergymen. However, the text was also written toward an audience consisting of

renowned nation leaders and White Americans in the South who werent aware of their own

privileges and the plight and segregation that Blacks faced daily. As a result, his text later

became an essential key element of the Civil Rights Movement and other demonstrations today

such as Black Lives Matter, a popular social movement and hashtag that campaigns against

unfair actions toward Blacks, such as violent police brutality and hate crimes. The letter can now

be analyzed amongst young students and can be utilized to inform ignorant White people about

their privilege and how racism still affects the general population today. King's activism was

influenced by and in response to the neglection and unfair treatment of Black people during the

period of Reconstruction, segregation between Whites and Blacks through unfair laws and the

clergymen during the Civil Rights Era, and parallel social groups like the Ku Klux Klan and

Nazis that still organize hate crimes today. Coming from a place of love, King emphasizes that

the White population and people of color need to peacefully persist together in order to

acknowledge that racism is continuous, and that the time for justice and equality is now.
The first issues that influenced King during the Civil Rights Era were the restrictions of

Black rights, which resulted after the abolishment of slavery. Legally, Abraham Lincoln's

Emancipation Proclamation saved over 3 million slaves in the South, but it was still difficult for

newly freed Black slaves to continue in a post-slavery society. According to an article "From

Slave Labor to Free Labor, many Black families were separated, making it difficult for former

Black slaves to make money and find jobs because they had to rely on themselves. In addition,

many Southern White landowners ignored their former slaves and claimed that they had no

responsibility in the reconstruction. Black codes were installed in order to keep Blacks in check,

send them to jail if they didn't agree to unfair labor contracts, and restricted interracial marriages.

King emphasizes the hypocrisy of a so-called progressive and free nation that still wasn't open-

minded enough to help Blacks back on their feet. As a result, Blacks had to rely on each other.

King states that he and the Black communities during the Civil Rights Era "have waited for more

than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are

moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and

buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter." This is significant because it

shows how Blacks have been patiently waiting for equality, but still face discrimination today. In

addition, he compares Americans to other countries and questions why privileged White people

have taken so long to not only attempt to erase the mistakes of the past, but at least acknowledge

that racism is still a problem. The irony is that America is recognized as the "land of the free,"

but not every individual is actually treated fairly.

King also responded to the segregation specifically between Blacks and Whites and

unfair White privileges which were prevalent in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Era. In

the History article 10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King Jr., author

Christopher Klein states that King was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30

miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone and how King was arrested over thirty times for

peaceful demonstrations. This is important in showing how King fought against racism toward

Blacks because he too was personally affected. This is a prime example of the racism that King

faced simply because he was Black. In addition, King responds to the clergymen who contradict

their own beliefs. The clergymen, in response to Kings imprisonment, first write We also point

out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions

may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. Clergymen are people who

focus on religion and morality. Although they use mature and convincing syntax, they still

condemn Kings demonstrations without considering his intentions. King responds, Oppressed

people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself,

and that is what has happened to the American Negro. This is important because he explains

how the demonstrations were an act of yearning, not hatred. Blacks simply wanted to be treated

equal, and their intentions were to be heard, not to wreak havoc amongst privileged Whites.

King, in addition to the Civil Rights Era and the Era of Reconstruction, was influenced to

write his letter based on parallel acts of racism that were happening outside of the country, such

as Hitler in the Second World War, and the views of moderate Whites who did not take a stance
on racism in America. The impact that King had on the American community illuminates

controversy today based on different social groups and the contradictions made by other

countries and communities prior to the Civil Rights Era. People tended to see situations as only

good or bad, which lead to the dichotomy and ostracization of Blacks. King responds to another

act of racism during WWII by writing, We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did

in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was

illegal. It was illegal to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. King responds to the

genocide of Jewish people by mentioning the irony behind Hitlers authority. If Hitlers mass

murder of millions of Jewish people was deemed legal at the time, then what validation do

police have to arrest people who are demonstrating with no intention for conflict? America is

forever changing and we are becoming exponentially more accepting, but small minority

communities like these still contribute to the big-picture problem at hand. King also responds to

the mixed views of Whites who did not pick a position. King writes, First, I must confess that

over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost

reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward

freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate,

who is more devoted to "order" than to justice. Essentially, King is responding to moderate

Whites, but is targeting the clergymen specifically. This is important because King shows how

the clergymen dont practice what they preach. They speak that racism is bad, but dont act upon
helping innocent Blacks. In essence, King makes it clear that just acknowledging a problem will

not totally abolish it.

The difference between good and bad intentions is that one demonstration can come from

an act of love, while another can come from an act of hate. King is successful in identifying the

issues that resulted into the negative connotations that suppress Blacks, while also proving the

relevance that the issue is ongoing, but can be lessened with a certain mindset. The protection of

ones race is essential because it is who they are. People cant change their race or privileges, but

can choose to be open-minded toward conflicts and situations. King teaches that if one comes

from a place of love and the motivation to uplift, then anything is possible.

A White man and a Black man protesting together in unity during the late 1960s during

the Civil Rights Movement after Martin Luther King Jr.s death
Work Cited

Bradner, Eric. Secret Martin Luther King Document Included in JFK File Release. CNN,

Cable News Network, 4 Nov. 2017,


Fighting Hate. Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, 2017,

Franke-Ruta, Garance. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Amazing 1964 Interview With Robert Penn

Warren. The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 26 Aug. 2013,

King Jr., Martin Luther. Letter From a Birmingham Jail. 16 Apr 1963.

Klein, Christopher. 10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King Jr. History,

A&E Television Networks, 4 Apr. 2013,


Martin Luther King Jr.- A True Historical Examination. Stormfront, Sept. 2017,

Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Speeches and Interviews. Detroit Area Library Network, 21

Dec. 2016,

Martin, Patricia. The Civil Rights Movement. Pinterest, 16 Feb. 2017,