April 16, 2023 marks the 60th Anniversary of MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. To commemorate that anniversary, the NC MLK Commission is hosting a virtual panel discussion that will talk about the letter’s relevance today, some 60 years later. Please go to the NC MLK Commission Website and register for the Virtual Panel Discussion happening on May 1, 2023 at 7PM.
In my role as a Commissioner for NC’s MLK Commission, I’ve been learning a lot about this letter as we planned an event marking this anniversary. I’ve also been watching with great interest the events that have unfolded in Tennessee the past two weeks. One of the clips shows a Republican standing up telling the “Tennessee Three” that the way you do business is to write a bill, debate it and get it passed and not to seek attention. As I heard this, it reminded me of the eight white Alabama Clergymen who wrote a letter to Martin Luther King sharing their concern about outside agitators going beyond the peaceful process already underway in Birmingham to find the “proper channels for its (honest and open negotiations of racial issues) accomplishment.” Martin Luther King, Jr. was not having it. He addresses every point the eight clergymen make and discusses the importance of following just laws. However, unjust laws are a different story. Unjust laws require nonviolent resistance.
One of my favorite parts of the letter is as follows:
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth.”
Springtime is here, and I’m seeing new growth in my little garden. Over the past few days, I saw more new growth. New growth that gives me hope that we are going to shift the tides of white supremacy and antidemocratic tactics designed to silence communities. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail and find your favorite part and its relevance for you today