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On June 14, 1977, Congress authorized an act establishing the official flag of the nation. The flag and anthem were created for all citizens of the United States of America. Not only the flag but also the country was founded off the ideals of “liberty and justice for all.” In the 1950’s and 60’s began the civil rights movement that was the start of a long journey for integration and equality of colored people. In Martin Luther King’s “Letter to Birmingham Jail,” King responds to eight clergymen who deem King’s actions as “unwise and untimely.” Laws are social constructs created to symbolize our ideals of “liberty and justice for all,” but there comes a time when it becomes our obligation to break these laws in the face of injustice. “Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in nonviolent direct action program…I was invited here” (King 1281). King spoke up for the people who were silenced and ignored because if he ignored the “gospels call,” change may have never begun.
In “Letter to Birmingham Jail,” King answers the eight clergymen’s claims on him being “unwise and untimely.” In the opening paragraph of the letter, King explains why he was in Birmingham in the first place. He shares with the clergymen that he was invited because of his organizational ties. “Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call…I was invited here” (King 1281). The clergymen believe that King or outsiders shouldn’t worry about other people, meaning, if they were not from Birmingham they should keep to their own matters. King refutes the statement by addressing that Birmingham is his business due to organizational ties with his office in Alabama and mainly because he was invited. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds” (King 1282-1283). King argues that even if he weren’t in Birmingham, injustice is still injustice no matter the location. All United States citizens are one and should have the same rights anywhere. People were denied their rights to peaceful protest which was unjust behavior so because of this, King decided that he needed to get the attention of the people and protest either way.
Justice is still not seen today and even in today’s society people are harassed and shunned for fighting for justice or having a position. An example that is widely discussed today is the football player Colin Kaepernick who initially sat on the bench during the anthem but later began taking a knee after a discussion with former NFL player and veteran Nate Boyer suggested that to show respect to military. Kaepernick noticed the racial disparities in our justice systems and felt that our country which represents ideals of “liberty and justice” in both the flag and anthem were not living up to our founding fathers ideals. Despite Kaepernick reaching out to fellow players and soldiers, Kaepernick saw that taking a knee showed respect, and symbolised the acknowledgment of suffering nationwide. This nonviolent protest created a commotion of angry Americans suggesting that Kaepernick disrespected the flag and fellow soldiers alike. In the case of Kaepernick he did not violate any law but created social tension. In the letter, King brings the topic of the value of tension and how tension focuses a space for dialogue. “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”(King 1284). Our system then and now is shaped in ways that seem to distort around race and poverty. This is the reason for protest; because of the lack of attention on a subject that has been around for generations, people feel obligated to take a stand for all the injustice. “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth” (King 1284). Recently in Alabama, the President of United States declared that taking a knee is disrespectful to the country.
By calling out this nonviolent protest, hundreds of athletes coast to coast responded to this claim by taking a knee during the anthem and linking arms showing that we are one and as citizens it is our duty to acknowledge more than one way to fight for your country. King’s heavy use of imagery depicts his frustrations of time and convenience. “We have waited 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. 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…then you will understand why I find it difficult to wait” (King 1285). By witnessing these brutal acts not only is the community facing endangerment, but to the civil forces with just intentions as well. This brutality creates tension and mistrust. Officers are created to protect and serve all people not solely any specific race or area. The issue of Kaepernick and all the other player who recently took a knee is a red herring; the real issues are the injustices that are still occuring in the United States from King’s letter written in 1963. Fifty-five years later, we are still facing the same issue. In the case of Martin Luther King we need to stop questioning the patriotism of a man and focus on why America is not “justice for all.” Every citizen in the United States should experience what the founding fathers wanted and fought for which was true liberty and real justice. The flag and anthem belong to all of us, the flag at the time and even now, does not represent the nation they way it was intended to. The question asked throughout the letter and even with taking a knee is when is it appropriate to protest? Protest to the eight clergymen and to many today should be at the convenience of others. On the field or protesting in the streets as King did and more recently with #BlackLivesMatter, as well as tweeting personal opinion on a private account is all shunned upon. Taking a stance should not be illegal when fighting for justice. The fact that racial injustice still exists should be a more terrifying thought than protesting in any way to draw attention to injustice.
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