Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere Meaning

In "Letter from Birmingham Jail," what is the meaning of the quote "an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?"

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What King means when he says this is that we cannot conceive of ourselves as separate from all the other people in the world.  As King says, he cannot sit in Atlanta and think that things in Birmingham do not affect him.  Instead, he says, we all have to understand that we are connected to all the other people of the world.  This is true because we are all part of the same “garment of destiny.”

But why is this true?  Why are we all tied to one another?  The reason for this is that we all live in the same world.  Perhaps it would help to think of this in terms of pollution.  A polluting factory in one part of America is a threat to air quality everywhere.  For one thing, the toxins can travel from one place to another.  For another, the idea that it is okay to pollute the air leads others to start polluting.  Soon, all air might be polluted. 

The same thing can apply to human society.  If we allow injustice to happen to some people or in some places, we endanger everyone.  We allow people to think that it is alright to act unjustly towards some people.  This attitude can spread until eventually people might act unjustly in more and more places.  This comes to endanger our entire society.

Thus, King is saying that we need to oppose injustice anywhere we see it, in part because it could end up harming us directly.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dr. King's letter was composed as he sat in a Birmingham jail because a court had previously ordered that King was prohibited from staging protests in Birmingham, Alabama. 

In his letter that he has composed while sitting in jail, Dr. King argues that since Alabama is a state just like Georgia, there is "an inescapable network of mutuality." In other words, if there were injustice in Atlanta where a civil rights demonstration was held, why would there not be injustice in Birmingham? Should he not, then, be permitted to stage a demonstration in this city too? 

King declares, "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" because if the injustice of not allowing a peaceful assembly can happen in Birmingham, why can it not happen somewhere else in the United States? The right to assemble falls under the First Amendment, and there can be no exceptions made. 

Read the study guide:
Letter from Birmingham City Jail

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