A few years ago I remember coming across the recommendation on social media that Christians would do well to (re-)read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail each year on the holiday set aside to honor MLK. I’ve taken that recommendation each of the last several years, and am happy to recommend you do the same.
You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. 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. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
It’s an amazing piece of literature reminding us of the dramatic moment in history that called for King’s leadership. Don’t let this day go by without taking the time to read.
You can find the document at Stanford University’s website for The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. A scan of the full document is available here, as well as audio of King himself reading the letter if you’d like to listen to it in his own voice.