The white clergymen Martin Luther King Jr. speaks of felt that King and his fellow activists were "unwise" and "untimely" in using demonstrations and sit-ins to accomplish their ends. They felt King was causing too much trouble with the law and that going up against the law through civil disobedience was not the correct course. Instead, they tried to get King to appeal to the law and try to achieve his aims by appealing to the courts.
In this letter, King at first seems to agree with his critics on certain points, at least in the broadest possible strokes:
You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue... Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
He agrees that dialogue between parties is needed and that violence is not the way to a better, less prejudiced society. However, King also infers through his cataloguing of the indignities suffered by African Americans for the past three centuries in America shows that appealing to the court alone will get nothing done. The activists need to make a statement through action, something that cannot be ignored.
King disagrees with his critics that civil disobedience suggests a disrespect for the law or an organized society. He does not view his protesting or sit-ins as "rabble-rousing," as his white critics do. He feels that opposing unjust laws that demean people is in fact the proper, Christian thing to do, rather than to endure persecution:
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
So, do King and his critics overlap on certain points? They do in a general sense. Both wanted to avoid violent confrontation and returning hate with hate. Both believed such was the Christian thing to do. However, their definitions of proper action display the gulf in experience between the white clergymen, who had never experienced severe racial discrimination, and the black Americans King sought to empower.