Martin Luther King Jr.: Letter From Birmingham Jail

This portion was taken from a letter written by Martin Luther King Jr. while imprisoned in a Birmingham Jail. He was arrested for taking part in a non-violent protest against segregation. While imprisoned eight white religious leaders wrote a public statement of concern regarding those demonstrations. Here is a little piece of the letter written against that public statement.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the
oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of
those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the
ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing
thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come
to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than
three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike
speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee
at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” 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, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast
majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when
you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she
cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes
when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little
mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when
you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored
people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable
corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs
reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you
are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are
harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to
expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of
“nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs
over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding
despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

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