The Conscience of the King
Martin Luther King (1963) claims that we have a moral obligation to change or even to overthrow government when it interferes with our ability to pursue financial, personal and social independence. The government itself, which is only the mode chosen by the people to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it (Thomas, Web). According to the King (1963), the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority permitted for a long period to rule. It is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. A government in which the majorities rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it (Henry, 1849).
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them with another. In order to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to, which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them. A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that, they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (Harold, 1988). Therefore, Martin Luther King (1963) supports his claim by arguing that, when the government does not fulfill its promises, the citizens ought to fight for their freedom.
King’s Support of the Claim
The Negro is victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality in support of his claim. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts which strategized the support of his claim. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation. They are discriminated against their color and cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities (King, 1963).
The Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. The children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for whites only." A Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. He further seeks justice to roll rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. He further says that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. They shall never again afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. The Negros were said to be victims of broken promise. For example, when they held a talk with some of the leaders of the economic community and were promised certain promises like removal of the humiliating racial signs from the stores (Harold, 1988, pg 92). Since nothing was done, the Negros were disappointed and had to take a direct action, whereby, they presented their very bodies as a means of laying the case before the conscience of the local and national community.
Luther King (1963) goes ahead to explain that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. The Negros was tired of the word “wait” because it always meant “never”. It became a way of frustration since “justice delayed is justice denied”.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. Accordingly, all experience shown that mankind is more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed (Thomas, Web). The King explains that it is their right and duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
There is a difference between just and unjust law. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote (Write Work Contributors, Web). Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote, despite the fact that the Negroes constitute a majority of the population. All the voting is like checkers or a sort of gaming and backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. A man who is wise will not leave the right to mercy of the chance; nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority (Henry, 1849).
Luther King also supports his claim with the church which also caused discrimination against the black. The contemporary church was so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It was often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community was consoled by the church's often vocal sanction of its operations. In spite of King’s shattered dreams of the past, he went to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of their cause and with deep moral concern serve as the channel through which their just grievances could get to the power structure. He had hoped that each of them would understand, but again he was disappointed (King, 1963).
King’s Strategies to Convince the Hostile Audience
The King convinced his audience that the bank of justice is not bankrupt. Their nation had sufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity. They had come to cash that check, which will give them upon demand, the riches of freedom and security of justice. They came to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. It was the time to make the real promises of democracy, to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation. To the sunlit path of racial justice, lift their nation from the quicksand of racial injustice, the solid rock of brotherhood and to make justice a reality for all of God's children (King, 1963).He told them that they must not be guilty of wrongful deeds and not seek to satisfy their thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. They must not allow their creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. They had to rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy, which had engulfed the Negro community, must not lead them to a distrust of all white people. For many of their white brothers, realized that their destiny was tied up with Negros destiny and their freedom was inextricably bound to their freedom. The Negros could not walk alone. They had to make the pledge that they would always march ahead and never turn back (King, 1963).
King also used a strategy of educating people that all men are created equal. Also, he says that men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments is instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness (Write Work Contributors, Web).
With faith the Negros would be able to hew out of the mountain of despair. As claimed by King (1963), there will a stone of hope and transform the jangling discords of their nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. They would be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together as he justified. And if America was to be a great nation, it should embrace freedom on every art of its state.
Harold Bloom. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Origin of Civil Society. Chelsea House, 1988
Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience,” Retrieved from
Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a Dream”, Address to civil rights marchers in Washington D.C.
Aug. 28, 1963. Retrieved from:
Martin Luther King. Letter from Birmingham Jail. Retrieved from
http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/letter_birmingham_jail.pdf, August 1963
Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence,” Retrieved from
WriteWork Contributors. "The Origin Of Civil Society" WriteWork.com. WriteWork.com, 01 February, 2008. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.