In his well-known 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:
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; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
This is one of my favorite passages from Dr. King, particularly because of how applicable it is in today’s polarizing political climate.
I’ve scrolled through numerous timelines today and seen various quotes from people, who, while I’m sure well-intentioned, have picked and chosen which parts of Dr. King they like and are acting as if Dr. King was some hippie that gave out flowers to white people for not being overtly racist.
Like he wasn’t furious over the racial climate during the Civil Rights Movement.
Like he cared more about how convienient his actions were for the time being than the value of the actions themselves.
These are the same people that say that “I’m being a little too harsh,” when I take the time to explain to you that All Lives Matter is problematic.
Did y’all forget that MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was written.. in.. jail…?
You don’t go to jail for holding hands and singing Kumbaya.
During the Birmingham campaign, filled with sit-ins, boycotts, and marches—essentially plenty of criminal activity— he specifically intended to create an environment so chaotic that there would be no choice but negotiation of these unjust laws. MLK lived to ruffle feathers.
Let me get even a little more real for you.
The United States Government (arguably a representation of all white people at the time) knew this. White people saw that he was getting increasingly frustrated and growing more militant.
In 1964, this letter (initially published by Yale historian Beverly Gage) was anonymously delivered to Dr. King. King was sure it was from the FBI, and that suspicion was confirmed about 10 years after the letter was received.
It’s still up to interpretation what it is exactly that the FBI wanted Dr. King to do (I personally think its suicide), but it is apparent that they were threatening to blackmail him.
Do with all of this information what you will, but my point is that Dr. King needs to stop being whitewashed.
Dr. King would have shouted “Black Lives Matter” the same way he shouted “I Have a Dream.”
Rainbow butterfly quotes and fluff about the preservation of violence, the power of love, and people failing to “get along” have been scattered on my feed like sprinkles today. I mean, don’t get me wrong, those are important, but the way that they are being used by people to portray Dr. King in a light that he simply did not live in is sickening.
I’m here to tell you that you’re dead wrong if you pick and choose what you want to believe about Dr. King.
You’re dead wrong if you’re not using your white privilege to get people to understand why we have to sit here and shout that “Black Lives Matter,” when it should be obvious, but you’re “honoring Dr. King today.” Mhm. Whatever that means.
You’re dead wrong if you think Dr. King lived to please you.
Dr. King made waves. He made people unlearn and learn again, and you learn the most in situations where you’re uncomfortable. He did this through, yes, peaceful protests and marches, but he was also arrested 29 times.
For God’s sake, he was assassinated.
Stop forgetting that people were threatened by his very existence.
His magic did not lie in the fact that he pleased white people. It lied in his appeal and the way he was able to get all people to realize that they, individually, are not the problem, but to know that the core of the issue lied within the system of oppression that is the United States of America.
Did I make you uncomfortable?
Do something about it.