Letter from Birmingham City Jail

by Martin Luther King Jr.
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According to Dr. King, why is nonviolent civil disobedience needed?    

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Dr. King's fundamental argument is that he wishes for change in the politics and social practices of Birmingham.  In something that is so embedded in the fabric of the Status Quo, Dr. King understands that this is a formidable obstacle:

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor.

In such an idea, Dr. King is fairly open about the inertia he and those committed to the cause must face.  He also understands that there has to be an approach that "disarms" such an embedded force.  It is here where he makes the argument that civil disobedience that is predicated upon nonviolence is the only way in which individuals will be able to disarm the forces that are so strongly ingrained in such an order.  In quoting Scripture and alluding to those who stood up to Hitler, Dr. King makes the argument that in order to defeat the forces of racism in Birmingham and, by extension, in America, one has to assume a moral superiority which can only be achieved through nonviolent civil disobedience.  In this, Dr. King makes a political issue a moral or ethical one.  In the process, there is an ethical dimension that Dr. King injects into the discourse, enabling he and his followers to gain some level of moral superiority than those in the position of power in a society where racism is so prevalent.

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