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

  • Olivio Clay

    Image of Olivio Clay. Dr. Olivio Clay is currently Assistant Professor of Psychology at UAB. Dr. Clay has earned three degrees from UAB: a B.S., an M.A., and a Ph.D. in Psychology. Dr. Clay’s research interests are in racial and ethnic disparities, caregiving, social support, and cognition and mobility in older adults. He annually participates in the Birmingham Sickle Cell Walk-a-thon and his interest in the sickle-cell disease led to collaboration with Dr. Joseph Telfair, previously of the UAB School of Public Health, where they examined the properties of an instrument used to assess self-efficacy in adolescents with the disease.

     
  • Arielle Sullivan

    Picture of Arielle Sullivan. Arielle Sullivan is a Huntsville native and 2004 graduate of Huntsville High School. After high school, Arielle attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) where she participated in the UAB Wind Symphony, University Honors Program and Pre-Med program among several other student organizations. In 2007, Arielle graduated from UAB magna cum laude with a B.S. in Mathematics. Arielle earned a second degree from UAB in 2008 with her M.S. in Mathematics. After UAB, Arielle went on to earn her Doctor of Medicine from the University of South Alabama in 2012 and has just begun her residency program in Columbus, GA with the Columbus Regional Healthcare System and hopes to practice family medicine in the near future.

    "…it’s kind of surreal…the first time I went to the 16th Street Baptist Church, to think that it was just a regular church service that I went to…nothing special, and it was under similar circumstances that the girls were in…just the shuffling around before service began before their lives were ended and the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham really took off..."    - Arielle Sullivan