Explain Dr.King's letter from Birmingham Jail from the perspective of promises and waiting.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Martin Luther King's letter from Birmingham Jail was written in 1963, slightly more than a century after the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect in 1863. King and other civil rights campaigners saw the end of slavery as a "promise of democracy." The letter from Birmingham Jail points out that, after one hundred years of waiting, that promise still has not been kept.

The letter also refers to promises more recently made and broken. In September of the previous year, civil rights leaders had held talks with some of the leading business owners in Birmingham. King describes the results of those talks, saying that they included promises on the part of shopkeepers to remove "humiliating racial signs." He then recalls:

On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise.

This has been a repeated pattern in negotiations. Promises have repeatedly been made without any real intention of bringing about change. Business leaders and politicians only want to pacify the civil rights activists and prevent them from taking action. This is why they are always telling King and his fellow campaigners to be patient. King writes eloquently about these constant delays and exhortations to wait:

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."

African Americans have been told to wait and fed false promises for over one hundred years. Now, King writes, their patience is at an end, and they will not be satisfied with anything less than decisive action.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team