Summary of the Letter from a Birmingham Jail
This letter was written in defense of the public demonstrations undertaken by the people, predominantly the black Americans, in pursuit of equal rights. The main issues highlighted in the letter are discussed below.
Acts that led to the demonstrations were condemned
It is pointed out that the acts that led to public demonstrations were to be condemned and not allowed. It is argued that lack of an alternative compelled the public to resort to demonstrations. A concern is expressed to lay the blame upon injustices carried out against the people and not upon the demonstrations. It is pointed out that defiance of the authorities to listen to the grievances of the people resulted to direct nonviolent actions.
According to the letter, injustice at one location is injustice everywhere; therefore, every person was morally obligated to join the demonstrations. It is further argued that if injustices were committed in Birmingham, then the whole United States would be affected. The letter strongly defended the demonstrations and viewed them as extreme actions against injustice.
Famous historical personalities and the extreme actions they engaged in are mentioned, for instance, Jesus is set as an example due to his extremism in love. Other persons mentioned were Paul, Martin Luther King, John Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. The extreme actions these people were engaged are listed against their names. It is, therefore, argued that demonstrations condemned are extreme actions in defense of justice.
Justice delayed was Justice denied
This is another main argument made in the letter. It is argued that constant pressure against oppressive authority is the only way to fight for the civil rights. Waiting is said to have never born any fruits, and therefore, it has never been considered right to engage in direct nonviolent actions.
The pain and anguish that the black Americans underwent are described in the letter. The description is detailed and shows why the direct nonviolent actions could not be delayed any longer. The description shows the glaring inequality between the white and colored populations.
Disobeying Unjust Laws was a duty
Unjust laws are described as those that do not uplift human personality. In regard to that, segregation statutes are viewed as unjust because of the impression they create that whites were superior over the blacks. It is indicated that disobeying unjust laws was a heroic act. The letter praises those who engaged in demonstrations and called them heroes of the South.
They were heroes because of their willingness to suffer for the common good of all the people. They were unlike the white moderates who were described in the letter as promoters of obnoxious negative attitude towards blacks. It is argued that even the courts violated the rights of blacks which stopped or undermined the efforts of people fighting for their constitutional rights.
This applied even when such efforts precipitated violence. Therefore, the letter focuses on the fact that the demonstrations led to violent actions, which was not a reason enough to stop the quest for justice.
Demonstrations were defended and justified through this letter. First, the blame is shifted from the demonstrations to the acts caused by such activities. Then the letter shows the reasons why the demonstrations were carried out and finally asserts that such actions of disobeying unjust laws were heroic because of the boldness that those who carried them out showed.