Jailed for illegal acts of coordinated marches and protests, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. composed an open letter on April 3rd, 1963 directed to fellow clergymen who criticized his methods of bringing light to racial prejudice and segregation in the south. These white clergymen who formed a coalition named " Call To Unity" argued that the only method for appropriately addressing racial segregation was through the court system. This was predicated on the concept of negotiating a revised social structure that would reduce blatant, hate-filled policies that manifested themselves throughout the south in the form of signage, symbolism and policies of restrictive access to public facilities and institutions. The laws were also painfully silent against criminal regresses of beatings, police brutality and the killing of innocent people.
The letter's central thesis explored the rationale for engaging in acts of non-violent tension as an alternative to negotiation . In fact, King argued that the way to challenge the legitimacy of the law and correct social and political injustice required an examination of options along four steps. 1. Collection of the facts to determine if there is injustice 2. negotiation 3.self-purification and 3. non-violent action. Since negotiation requires a willing party with opposing views to engage in constructive discussion, non-violent action became a suitable alternative with the long term aim of eventually forcing negotiation
I believe that this has significance for many people since injustice is not isolated to a political realm but can also be found in the home, the workplace and our community in various indignant forms.
King assumed that the basis for non-violent action however, had to be supported first by a thorough self-examination. Thus, self-purification became a prerequisite. The philosophical dilemma of taking action without malice surely was a goal since he was
moved by theological and spiritual motivations He wrote: " Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" " Once one was cleared in conscience to answer this question in the affirmative, the motivational basis to take action could emerge. This also likely helped many with mustering the requisite courage to act.
Dr. King saw non-violent tension as the key to producing growth in society in a constructive rather than a destructive way
He went on to write: "Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. "
This lesson still has a fundamental relevance in our society today .