Monday, January 17, 2005

MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail

Nick Gillespie over at Reason brings this to our attention. I had never read this before, and am greatful that he has done so. This letter proves to me that King is indeed the admirable figure historical mythology has made him out to be. As I grow older, wiser, and better read as well as more analytical, I have grown to regard some of the assumptions of history classes and monuments as fallacy. One example which comes to mind is the assumed greatness of FDR. Quite frankly, I must admit I have never taken to time to look into the legacy of Martin Luther King, analyze his writings or concern myself with his true legacy, aside from what are now trite filmreels of him repeating "I Have a Dream" to an adoring throng at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

But this letter takes my image of him a step further. It is inherently rational, in the way that the Declaration of Independence is inherently rational. There is no illogical appeal to emotion, no grand assumptions, no bombastic rhetoric. It's clearly reasoned, carefully argued, and eminently reasonable - a quality so frequently lacking in the debate over race today. Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Kwesi Mfume, and the rest of the leaders who claim King's legacy simply are incapable of this kind of expression, and we all are the worse off for it.

If this letter is indicative of King's insight, whoever was responsible for his death, be it James Earl Ray or anyone else, certainly appears to have deprived not just the black civil rights movement of a great leader, but all of America of a voice of reason, and a perspective that I don't believe has been filled since.


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