Why did several clergyman write an open letter about Dr. King's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The clergy that wrote an open letter questioned the timing and purpose of Dr. King's and others' actions.  Their focal point revolved around the idea that the protests were "unwise" and "untimely."  These ministers were opposed to segregation, but preached a sense of patience and caution in demanding change.  This was out of the idea that the time period was so volatile and segregation seemed to be so embedded that the ministers did not think that opposition in the manner that Dr. King and his followers was advisable.  Yet, it is here in which Dr. King starts his letter.  He stresses that the need to rise against the injustice being displayed in Birmingham is what makes the moment, the "fierce urgency of now," so intensely important.  Dr. King's primary point in his letter is that "direct action" is needed.  There can be no waiting, as suggested by the clergymen, because "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  Whereas the clergy writing the letter that prompted King's response stressed forbearance and patience, Dr. King suggested the opposite in that waiting for injustice to pass and doing little to oppose it actually emboldens it, making it stronger.