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Day to Day Politics: Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Saturday 23 July 2016

On the top row of my library shelves is a book titled “The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought”. It is a book that I re visit between making a decision on what to read next. It contains over 100 contributions. Essays from Karl Marx, “The Opium of the People”– Albert Schweitzer ‘’Reverence for Life’’ – the work oft quoted by Kevin Rudd, “Letters from Prison” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Mahatma Gandhi’s “Autobiography”. Other writers include Solzhenitsyn, Schweitzer, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nietzsche. None however is more earnestly satisfying than Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.

The world recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Kings historically important ‘’I have a Dream’’ speech but this masterpiece of literature. This sublime piece of eloquent prose is apt to be overlooked. King wrote this letter in longhand after being arrested and placed in jail. His words convey all the force of a man unrelenting in his desire for a better place in a world full of racism and bigotry. But he does so with a powerful, but dignified calmness that is breathtaking.

I never tire of re reading this masterpiece of writing. It stirs me that men of his ilk have written words that command attention. When we read works like this, we should do so with the view to being radically changed. This letter did so for me.

If you want your spirits fired up here is the link.

My thought for the day.

In our humanity – the concoction of who we are. The most important ingredient is hope. Together with love they make the perfect recipe’.



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  1. wam

    beauty lord!!! I am gladden by hope and selfishly happy because my family has grips on reality rather than faith. Racism has come far since the 60s but is still taught and the teaching re-inforced by the media. Hopefully this time the ignorant will learn. I was heartened by hanson incredulous reaction to sam’s confession. She, I hope, given evidence, may challenge her beliefs?

  2. stephentardrew

    Once again you inspire John.

  3. Ken

    I can string vowels, consonants & punctuation marks together reasonably well, some people say they think I swallowed a dictionary as a lad, but when I read Dr King I am staggered by his eloquence.The way he makes you feel and understand his passions and frustrations. Our ‘progressive left’ politicians could do worse than read this letter, in particular they might heed ‘not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society’.

  4. Glenn K

    sadly, the eloquent words and inspiring principles of Dr King are well beyond the understanding, consideration, and intellect of so many of our elected representatives….
    Thank you John for the link to his letter – I had not read it before.

  5. Kyran

    Wow, I hadn’t read that before. Unfortunately, it has left me feeling more morose than uplifted.
    Mr King’s notion that a law requires a just foundation to be valid, is, surely, self evident? His explanation is brilliant;
    “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”
    Trump wants to go to their election on ‘law and order’. Between him and his Veep, they never once mentioned ‘justice’ in their speeches. They both invoked emotive recounts of the policemen recently shot, without one reference to the increasing number of victims of racist police procedures that may have evoked such violent retribution.
    Some 53 years after Mr King’s dissertation, they remain in the same quagmire.
    Mr King’s suggestion that waiting for the right time to protest is an acceptance of your oppression is brilliant.
    “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
    It mirrors the notion that a justice delayed is a justice denied.
    Only in America! That’s when I became morose.
    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
    In Australia, we have our First People, whom we have not only treated with contempt, but institutionalised the contempt. We have issues of inequality (gender, wealth, sexual preference, etcetera), which we have to wait for our ‘leaders’ to solve.
    “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.”
    The last three years, we have witnessed the most blatant of cronyism, ineptitude and corruption in our government. They no longer feel a need to explain, let alone apologise.
    “More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.”
    That’s before any consideration be given to what we are doing to those in our care, in flagrant disregard of the charters we helped author.
    “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
    My bad, Mr Lord. It is uplifting. It portrays the things worth fighting for. Not the distraction of vacuous gits, unworthy of any defence.
    Grateful, as always, Mr Lord. Take care

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