BURY ME WITH THIS BOOK! Okay, that's maybe a little melodramatic BUT why isn't this required reading????? I don't know about schools in the United States (I hope it is required reading there.. if not, WTF?) but I'm talking about schools in Germany, schools around the world? Why are we taught so much uninteresting and irrelevant
shit when books like these are out there? Why have we never learned about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States? I understand why German schools focus on German history, this is all well and good, but why do we learn about the founding of the United States (from an extreme white/ privileged perspective, without any focus whatsoever on slavery) and not about the resulting problems of the so highly praised Declaration of Independance??? I am a little salty right now, but Thomas fucking Jefferson can kiss my sweet ass. I swear to God, I don't care that he made ice cream and french fries popular, that man was a fucking hypocrite. (And I am aware that it is stupid and unproductive to lay guilt on individuals instead of laying it against a system, but as I said before, I am a little petty today, so fuck off.)
Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
Not only is it interesting for German students to learn about other cultures and communities and their struggles, NO it is also fucking important to learn about nonviolent resistance.
Call me an uneducated ass (I won't contradict you... but whose fault is it that I was never taught about these things?), but I didn't know that the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement did all they could in favor of a NONVIOLENT protest. They wanted to fight institutionalized racism and segregation with peaceful sit-ins and coordinated demonstrations and marches. Why didn't I know that was a thing? Why wasn't I taught that the means of the Civil Rights Movement weren't bloody and unjust? (Of course I am only speaking for myself, and my sorry excuse for a high school!)
But enough of my ramble, let's get into the good stuff. This wonderful little book contains Dr King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and his "I Have a Dream"-speech. Both are one of the most important pieces of literature/ history that I ever had the pleasure of reading!
Letter from Birmingham Jail
The Letter from Birmingham Jail
is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King Jr. The letter defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance, and that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. The Birmingham Campaign
began on April 3, 1963, with coordinated marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. The nonviolent campaign was coordinated by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. On April 10, Circuit Judge W. A. Jenkins issued a blanket injuction against "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing." Leaders of the campaign announced they would disobey the ruling. On April 12, King was roughly arrested alongside other activists and marchers.
King was met with unusually harsh conditions in Birmingham jail. An ally smuggled in a newspaper from April 12, which contained "A Call for Unity" (aka the audacity of white people): a statement made by eight white Alabama clergyman against King and his methods. The letter provoked King, and he began to write a response - The Letter from Birmingham Jail
.He wrote the letter on the margins of a newspaper
, which was the only paper available to him, and then gave bits and pieces of the letter to his lawyers to take back to movement headquarters, where the editing could begin. ROUND OF FUCKING APPLAUSE. The trial and error that these men had to go through is beyond me.
King starts out in the most petty way possible, and I am so happy for that. He says that he usually doesn't pause to answer criticism, because he would have no time for constructive work
, he has the time now because white people put him in fucking jail. He begins to explain why he is in Birmingham in the first place: "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here." He feels compelled to bring freedom and morality beyond the bounds of his home town, and since Birmingham is one of the most racially segregrated cities (at his time), he is needed there, in the spirit of a chain is only as strong as its weakest link
. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the citiy's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
He talks about his nonviolent campaign, and how direct action is the only possibility now, because Civil Rights leaders tried to negotiate with e.g. merchants and other whites in power, but these negotiations lead to nothing. "Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation."
King also stresses that every black activist and marcher is conscious that he is, sadly, acting against the (fucked up) law, and therefore willing to go to jail for this higher cause. And that was so fucking important to me, because it is something that I haven't considered before.
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. [...] I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
He stresses that nonviolent pressure is needed, if the country is to change. It is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. [...] We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
I especially enjoyed the passages in which he refuted the white call for endurance, that black people simply should wait, and everything would turn out fine for them... BITCH WHEEEREEE??? King says that for the Negro "wait" means "never" - "justice too long delayed is justice denied." He mirrors Solomon Northup's sentiment that "perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait.'" I know I am about to quote a fucking long passage, but it's a fucking important passage, and it's important that you hear it:
When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park [...] and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominious clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people, [...] when your first name becomes "nigger", your middle name "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John", [...] when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" - then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
He then proceeds to go on a rant on the difference between laws that are just and laws that are unjust, because apparently the white clergymen were too stupid (aka too willfully ignorant) to know the difference. Dr King says: "Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority." GOSH that he had to explain that to people who styled themselves Christians is beyond me. "A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law." Thank you very much!!!!
Then he talks about how every Civil Rights activist and marcher is willingly breaking UNJUST laws, because they know that they act on a ground of a higher moral. They willingly accept the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice.
ROUND OF FUCKING APPLAUSE. No for real though, the amount of awe and respect I have for these people...
He then goes on a rant about the "white moderate", and that people who are willfully ignorant, who do NOTHING instead of SOMETHING are just as bad as members of the Ku Klux Klan. "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people."
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro.
He then goes on to vent his disappointment with the white church and its leadership... He has witnessed, in the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, white churchmen stand on the side-line mouthing pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. He says how dangerous it is to blindly be an archdefender of the status quo, because the silence of the church consoles the power structure of the average community.
Regardless of whether the church will come to his aid or not, Dr King has no despair about the future. He knows that eventually they will reach their goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation.
Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independance across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebearers labored in this country without wages; [...] and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.
AND ANOTHER QUOTE BECAUSE HE IS JUST THAT GOOOOOOOD
I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negros. I doubt that you would so quickly commend policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhuame treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse of Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to observe them, as I did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in the praise of the Birmingham police department.
I Have A Dream
I listened to that speech and read it simultaneously, marking the parts where he got the most applause, the things he left out of his speech. It was truly fascinating. If you ever feel the urge to analyse a speech, this is a great example...
I won't get into too much detail here because this amazing speech basically mirrors all the sentiments that he already laid down in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail"... Even though I have to say, that the letter is much more factual, whereas the speech is much more emotional and "catchy"... but I mean 250,000 fucking marchers were present that daaaay, so it's clear that he needed words that would electrify the masses. I like how firm and sure he was in his assessments, he always talked about how they WILL regain their freedom, how they HAVE COME to remind America of their injustices, how they ARE RISING UP to claim their rights etc... It was very wonderful to see, especially the affirmative response that he got from his listeners... All the time you could hear someone from the audience yelling "YES" or "YEAH". It made my heart sing!
And again in this speech Dr King showed what a great leader he is, because he insisted on a NONVIOLENT protest, he warned the audience to not be filled with hatred, injustices should be met with "soul force" instead of "physical force". Round of fucking applause!!!
So I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. [...]
I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. I have a dream today!
I got fucking chills. This was phenomenal. Thank you so much, Dr King and every marcher and activist that fought for this cause, thank you for your efforts, your blood, sweat and tears, thank your for your lives! It is because of these people that I, as a biracial girl, have the privileges that I have today. Of course the world is not perfect, and there's lots left to be improved, but what these people achieved 60 years ago is fucking phenomenal.
I have a dream today!
I am beyond grateful!