Student Writings on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Unjust Laws in Birmingham

By Rikki Fiedler, an introductory Philosophy student. 

"Letter from Birmingham Jail" is a very influential and ground-breaking letter in response to the clergymen who composed "A Call to Unity"...

This piece was a very condescending idea to Martin Luther King, Jr. As he sat in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, for multiple days, he had the time to boil over this published work and create his strongly worded response. This response was prevailing in such a way that it has shaped history and impacted segregation in the United States in the most positive of ways.

In King's response, he writes "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." He says this in response to the clergymen calling him an outsider in Birmingham. King addresses that he could not step back and watch the injustices being done in Birmingham and not do anything about it. In relation to social injustices, his statement implies that no one should be able to sit back and witness such travesties without taking action. King believes that we are all brothers and sisters and we should stand up for one another when injustices are being performed. He also is implying that what one group of people, in this case the white community in Birmingham, does will negatively affect another group of people, the segregated African Americans in Birmingham.

Also in his response, King states that there are two types of laws, "just" and "unjust" laws. He defines a just law as one in which a person should be held legally and morally responsible to obey, and he advocates following these laws. He continues by saying just laws are "a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God." Furthermore, King describes an unjust law as being just the opposite, one which a person should not follow. He believes what St. Augustine believed, that "an unjust law is no law at all." Segregation is seen as an unjust law because it is hypocritical. The majority power compels the minority power to obey these laws, but the majority power does not do the same. Unjust laws are biased, and therefore, should not be followed.

Inspiring Students

  • Leigh A. Willis

    Picture of Leigh Willis. Dr. Leigh A. Willis earned a Ph.D. in Medical Sociology and an M.P.H. in Health Behavior from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a B.A. with Department Honors in Sociology and Human Services from Albion College. Specifically, his research focuses on the sexual risk of heterosexual African American men and adolescents. His current research projects focus on social determinants of HIV among communities of color, HIV prevention among youth and African American heterosexual men, and the use of media (traditional, social, and new) to prevent HIV/AIDS. Dr. Willis is currently the Co-PI of an inaugural Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Innovation fund project to develop an HIV/STI-focused motion comic for people ages 15-24. Dr. Willis serves on the White House working group for using games as a policy tool.
     


    Leigh Willis on the Civil Rights Movement


    Leigh Willis on his internship and experience at UAB  
  • Ashley Wilson

    Picture of Ashley Wilson. Ashley Wilson is a Birmingham native and 2010 graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with a B.A. in History and a minor in Anthropology. During her undergraduate career, Ashley earned a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Fellowship and conducted field research in Fiji. Currently Ashley is a graduate student in the Anthropology department and plans to graduate with a M.A. in Anthropology in Spring 2013.
     
    Ashley Wilson on not forgetting the Civil Rights