• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Martin Luther King Day, 2005

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live,
and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20

On April 12, 1963, eight Alabama religious leaders, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish, issued an appeal to the Negro [sic] community of Birmingham, Alabama for patience and restraint. At that time, Dr. Martin Luther King was in jail, arrested for leading a non-violent direct action program designed to break down Birmingham’s walls of segregation.

Four days later, Dr. King published a reply to these ostensible men of God. Direct action was required in Birmingham, King asserted, because Birmingham was so unjust:

There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case.

The Preamble to our U.S. Constitution identifies six core American objectives: form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Chief among these is the establishment of justice. The pursuit of justice is no less than a critical catalyst for the American vision of a free people governing itself, for without justice there will be no domestic tranquility, the common defense will weaken, the general welfare will suffer, and we, along with our posterity, will be denied the blessings of liberty.

The challenge Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council faced in Birmingham was how to achieve desegregation. The religious leaders, in their April 12 statement, argued that desegregation would come from accepting segregation while working patiently to negotiate changes in the law. At the same time, militant African-American groups were urging violence against the white southern power structure. Neither of these extremes satisfied Dr. King.

Dr. King understood Justice, justice shall you pursue to mean two things.

First, King felt an obligation, a duty, to pursue justice. He could no more turn his back on injustice than could Jesus or the Prophets of the Torah. Patience was not an option, not after 340 years of oppression. In explaining why he was in Birmingham, King wrote

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

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.

Second, like Gandhi, the Rabbis of the Talmud, and Jesus, Dr. King recognized the necessity to pursue justice justly. The only realistic way to achieve justice is to pursue it by just means. To pursue justice by violent means is inherently counter-productive as violence begets violence begets violence begets violence, a downward spiral that only leads to hell. This is why the writer of Deuteronomy wrote Justice, justice.

Twenty months after writing his letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. King had the honor of being the youngest person in history to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, King frames the challenge of how justice is to be pursued.

I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama, to Oslo bears witness to this truth.

It has been nearly 40 years since an assassin’s bullet struck down Martin Luther King, leaving for us the responsibility to aggressively—but justly—pursue justice.

It is time for humankind to make good on Dr, King’s challenge to discover a way to live together in peace.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.

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.

 Justice, justice shall we pursue, that we may secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.

Let Freedom Ring.



Copyright © 2005. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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