One of the memories that come to mind when Martin Luther King Jr. is mentioned is his constant refusal to cooperate with an evil system. Historically, King is known as an advocate of civil disobedience through nonviolent resistance. One of the ideas that he strongly embraced as a young man is that of obtaining growth through struggle. Partly influenced by his father and various philosophers, King dedicated his life fighting for the civil rights. Even though in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he was addressing the clergymen, the content plays a major role in exposing King’s earnest beliefs. He was typically very critical of the complacency of the churches in addressing the injustices that were eminent in American society. King’s major theme of life was that social and political change can only be effected through non-violent civil disobedience (“Letter from Birmingham Jail” 5).
King believed that the daily socioeconomic environment of an individual is very vital to religion. Many of his beliefs have been associated with Mahatma Gandhi’s influence. In the letter, King defended the protests arguing that it was the only means to awaken the system and formulate social and political change. He had travelled to Alabama City to lead a protest on an Easter weekend in a bid to make the city leaders address the grievances of the black citizens. This letter was a response to eight clergymen who were urging the black to use the courts and not the streets in settling their concerns. The clergymen believed that law and order and not demonstrations would promote justice (Stride toward Freedom 258). In defense of his opinion concerning nonviolent resistance, King wrote the letter citing pertinent issues that only peaceful protest could address. He also stated that protests come about due to lack of goodwill from the community leaders (“Letter from Birmingham Jail” 1).
Martin Luther King’s letter was a defense of the nonviolent resistance as a means to force social and political refors in American society. Many of the beliefs expressed in the letter show the level of influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of ‘truth force’ on the author. The two (Gandhi and King) were strong advocates of nonviolent resistance, which as they trusted would help to struggle for equality.
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Nonviolent resistance (also known as passive resistance) involves fighting to end legally executed injustice through peaceful resistance. Many scholars have drawn close connections between the nonviolent movements developed by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. King was a son of a preacher and thus was greatly influenced by the Christian belief of loving one’s neighbors and enemies. Mahatma Gandhi was a dedicated Hindu who strongly trusted in social justice. He was at the forefront in fighting for the Indian independence. Gandhi invoked the whole India into civil disobedience in search for freedom from British oppression (Bedau 47). King, in his turn, was a civil right activist who fought racial equality in the USA. The two leaders used the policy of nonviolent resistance to fight for change. Instead of resorting, they believed in nonviolent means such as boycotts, strikes, and protests. The two leaders exhibited courage as they pushed for resistance. For instance, in the letter, King boldly confronted the issues raised by the clergymen and scorns them for their complacency when injustice was eating away the blacks. This is very clear in the sixth paragraph when he faulted the clergy for not seeking to address the underlying effects of segregation and instead superficially focusing on the demerits of the protest (“Letter from Birmingham Jail” 1).
Both Gandhi and King stressed on the importance of commitment in bringing a large scale change. In other words, the means and the end must be both pure. Anyone who wanted to change a specific state of affairs had to follow the steps or the process that embody the end. From the accounts of King’s letter, he asserted that they had to postpone the protests seeveral times in a bid to avoid corrupting the means for achieving equal rights since the date set for the protests had coincided with the mayoral elections in the city. He cited that this was done so that the protests would not be used to cloud the issues (“Letter from Birmingham Jail” 2). Gandhi asserted that the steps used in achieving an objective should be ones used in implementing the same goal. Thus, the process must not be corrupted if the intended end is good. Gandhi and King believed that love was the purest motive behind every action (Nojeim 10). When termed as an outsider by the clergymen, King asserted that his actions against segregations were purely driven by love and the end result would ensure equal treatment to everybody and termination of unjust laws. Both King and Gandhi fought against laws that degrade human and destroy his/her personality.
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The only difference that Gandhi and King had was based on their approach to resistance. The former believed that through noncooperation and patience nonviolent resistance would quickly achieve the desired goals. However, King stated that it would take a certain degree of confrontation and tension to accomplish the desired change. He stressed to the clergy that pressure which is constructive, nonviolent and can necessitate growth is sometimes good for any reasonable social reforms to occur (Stride toward Freedom 265). In other words, the tension would be used as a means to force the oppressors to the negotiation table. King outlined that when a law is used to devalue people and deprive them of their independence, in such case, protests would be needed to reclaim human dignity (Watley 10; “Letter from Birmingham Jail” 6). This principle was one of the core values that made Gandhi to lead Indians in their struggle against the British imperialism. When the government forbade possessing salt other than one bought from it, Gandhi organized a 200 mile march to the sea where protesters made salt from the sea water contrary to the law.