Why did Martin Luther King Jr. Think that the struggle against segregation could not be confined to courtrooms and polite negotiations, as represented in Eyes on the Prize?

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In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King considers various possible strategies for ending segregation, including negotiation and action in the courts. He concludes that both of these are necessary but not sufficient. Dr. King writes that in any non-violent political campaign there should be four steps: "collection of...

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In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King considers various possible strategies for ending segregation, including negotiation and action in the courts. He concludes that both of these are necessary but not sufficient. Dr. King writes that in any non-violent political campaign there should be four steps: "collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action." In Birmingham, they have gone through all these steps. They have attempted to negotiate and to take action in the courts but to no avail.

For instance, King says, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights has attempted to negotiate with the "economic community" of Birmingham. It was agreed that the shopkeepers would take down signs with humiliating racial slurs, and in return, the Movement would cease its demonstrations. The demonstrations were stopped and a few signs were removed, then reinstated. Most were never taken down.

Broken promises of this kind have led him to decide that negotiation must be accompanied by direct action if it is to have any effect:

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” 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.

King also notes that some may think is strange that he is prepared to break the law in some cases, while in others, notably that of the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in public schools, he insists that the law should be obeyed. He says, however, that African Americans have received grossly unjust treatment in the courts, and they should not simply accept this. Segregation is sinful, and this is why no law promoting it ought to be obeyed:

Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

King, therefore, calls for continued court cases and negotiations but believes they should be reinforced by non-violent direct action.

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