Standard SSUSH22d covers Martin Luther King Jr’s famous letter from Birmingham Jail, and his “I Have a Dream” speech. The Birmingham Jail letter was MLK Jr’s response to several local clergymen’s criticism of the protests calling them “untimely” and “unwise”. While they claimed that they had agreed that segregation was unjust, their opinions were that they should essentially be patient and just let it happen on its own. Written April 16, 1963, King started his response to this new paper article, which was snuck into his cell. He essentially was responding telling them that they don’t understand the hardships that African Americans face in their society, being that they were all white men. He explained how everything they had done thus far was all peaceful protest, and that if they continue to not allow that more violent protest will occur. One of my favorite things he said was that “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” This to me was the class middle finger to white people that wanted to pretend they knew what African Americans were going through, the people that told him they should just let the court handle things. After being released, King spoke at the March on Washington at which he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech. The march was organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin to stand up against the injustices of segregation and not giving African Americans equal rights to whites. His speech was about his hopes that in the future different races could live equally, unsegregated, next door to each other, in the same schools.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum as MLK Jr., we have Malcolm X. Originally named Malcolm Little, he changed his last name to “X” to signify the rejection of his slave days. Malcolm X spoke essentially against MLK Jr. in that he told people to fight against segregation by any means necessary. It is believed that his aggression on the matter likely stemmed from his father being threated by the Ku Klux Klan when Malcolm was young, forcing them to move away from their home town. He spoke against peaceful protest and against the ideas that actually advanced their movement.
I learned that being MLK Jr. was not easy. Even his fellow clergy men thought that his approach was poorly executed and that he should stop. What if he had? What if after being put in prison for peacefully making his beliefs known, he gave up? Would someone like Malcolm X have taken his place? That is a scary thought, would the United States have ever been desegregate? Maybe not.