The Letter From A Birmingham Jail

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a key figure in the civil rights movements that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. The “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is an open letter written by King defending nonviolent resistance against racism. The letter argued that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust and unethical laws. The letter also stresses themes of unity among brothers in order to overcome racism. I will argue in support of King’s stance that citizens are morally justified in breaking unjust laws and that openly and responsibly opposing unjust laws is itself a duty of every citizen. Disobeying a law naturally seems counter-intuitive to fixing a problem. This idea is very Socratic in nature. Socrates believed that it was a great disservice to the state to follow laws that were unjust. “I was attached to this city by the god . . . as upon a great and noble horse (the state in this case) which was sluggish because of its size and needed to be stirred up by a kind of gadfly” (Apology, 30e, Plato). According to Socrates, “pursing virtue and truth in the name of the state” (Apology, 42a Plato) is necessary and actions such as civil disobedience are also necessary in order to find that virtue and truth at times. Both King and Socrates were “gadflies” in the sense that they were willing to question and bring tension to laws that were unjust and needed to be changed. This tension brings along the willingness to fix the laws and make them just. Settling for a “negative

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