Posted by Lex, on January 17, 2011
My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
We have come so very far in law from that jail cell in Birmingham, circa 1963. But in fact so very many people have been left behind, and the toxicities of our urban centers have left many ten thousands of our co-citizens in what may even be a worse kind of slavery than was endured by their great-grandparents. It is the slavery of despair, addiction and trans-generational dysfunction.
Martin Luther King was a flawed man, as are we all. But he placed his personal skin in the game, at a time when doing so carried the very real threat – in his case, sadly realized – of ruthless repression and even violent death. His personal bravery and martyrdom helped to change the country for the better and gave those who followed after him an open opportunity to turn those laws to real good.
If he were alive today, I wonder what he would think of how his heirs have managed that inheritance.