MLK Jr.

Today is a nationally recognized holiday celebrating the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps Dr. King’s most moving words are found in Letter From a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963). The letter was written as a response to eight white pastors who suggested that patience was needed more than protest. They thought that the problem of racial segregation and inequality should be handled exclusively in the courts and not in the streets. Here is an excerpt.

“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dart of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; 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 that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; 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. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

Over on the Desiring God Blog, John Piper encourages Christians to not waste the MLK Jr. Holiday. He writes: “You need not have all the answers. You need not be democrat or republican. You need not think things are as bad as they were or as good as they could be. What you need to do is press the issue of ethnic ill-will on the consciences of your people in the name of Jesus, who came to us when we were more alien to him than anyone has ever been to us.”

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