In Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" the Baptist minister outlines his theory in nonviolent direct action, and delves into each of the steps necessary for success in ending segregation and achieving equality for the African American community. This letter, as the title embodies was written by King following his arrest for failure to comply with permit requirements that would have granted himself and his parties permission to gather peacefully and protest the injustices of the government in regards toward segregation of the African Americans. The letter is abundant with his discontentment concerning his community, comparisons of just and unjust laws, and the looming threat of being labeled an extremist. King's letter is an embodiment of his religious, political, and philosophical ideologies. Not only does King highlight the improper treatment of the African American community, he provides a solution to the issues. As the reader, I found this letter to be a staple of not only United States history, but even more importantly, the Civil Rights Movement. In order to better understand Dr. King's words, the reader has to examine attitudes toward racism in the 1960s, legislation surrounding segregation, Dr. King's religious upbringing, and the rising tension among African Americans in relation to the oppressive environment put in place.
With this letter Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is attempting to reach out to his fellow clergymen with a generous attitude in high hopes of justice for the Negro community, and ultimately the elimination of segregation. He desperately wanted to bring light to the way African Americans were treated in the 1960s. Abused and outcast, the Negro community, alongside King hoped it would make the clergymen realize that what they think and believe is wrong and immoral. He also was attempting to validate the desperate need for nonviolent direct action. When he says, "...freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed," he is highlighting the urgent need for action. The oppressed in this statement are members of the Negro community, pointedly displayed when he also makes mention of some Negros becoming complacent with degrees from schools which afforded them decent paying jobs, and disabled them with a blind eye towards the ongoing injustice occurring against their communities. His tone is one of disappointment and disapproval, which is evident when he states that time cannot wait any longer, and the time for action is whenever the oppressed choose to act. Additionally, he concludes his thoughts on inaction by stating: "...now I have heard the word 'Wait!' it rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. 'Wait!' has almost always meant never." Which leads me into the next topic, the Nonviolent Direct Action Program.