An Anchor of Time: The Letter from Birmingham Jail, 50 Years Later
Everybody wants to be on Martin Luther King's side, but no one wants to cross the street.Back in college one of my professors suggested that, while it was appropriate to date time from the birth of Christ, given the historical and cultural significance of that moment, the time had come to mark time differently. He proposed August 6, 1945, the day on which the U.S. government dropped a bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and ushered in the nuclear age. That day changed history, he argued, and he was right. But the interesting thing to me about how we mark time now--according to the birth of Christ--is how unremarkable that day was to the people who were living it. It's only through the lens of history that we came to recognize its significance, only in retrospect that we know how profoundly that day changed history. So, if my professor is right and the time has come to re-mark time, I think we ought to look for something more subtle than a nuclear explosion. I might propose April 16, 1963. April 16, 1963, is the day Martin Luther King Jr. began writing his letter to white clergy, on the occasion of his arrest and imprisonment in Birmingham, Alabama, for "parading without a permit" in an effort to end legal segregation in that city. He wrote in response to an editorial, written by various white clergy, offering general support for the cause of the black person in the American South but urging patience and meekness. Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the writing of that letter, and it is as current today as it was then.
Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.For the full text of the letter (which I read once a year, every year--a practice I recommend wholeheartedly), click here.