Sample Essays: Martin Luther King

Human history begins with man’s act of disobedience which is at the very same time the beginning of his freedom and development of his reason.  ~Erich Fromm

It’s hard to disagree with the statement made by Erich Fromm on disobedience, especially if we’ll think about one of the greatest leaders of civil disobedience movement in the XX century, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his truly distinctive historical writing called “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. Some of the greatest appeals made in this letter were to justice, nonviolent resistance and conscious surrender to moral believes in struggle against racial injustice.

“There are two types of laws, just and unjust,” wrote King in his letter from the jail. “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” According to King, it is permissible to break those laws that violate the moral code of society and such is an act of civil disobedience. The support for King’s argument can be found in Shirley Jackson’s work The Lottery, where she talks about destructive rituals of mankind that should be eliminated, because they bring unreasonable suffering. King goes against society’s unjust law and clearly expresses his intentions to do what he feels agreed with his personal values. King’s message in the Birmingham letter is that racial injustice and segregation of the black Americans are being constantly encouraged by the white American society and powerful religious and political communities, but this will not last for too long: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever”, writes King and in the end he points out that such will be a historical victory for black American community and for the entire country.

The second important issue that King addresses in his letter is a defense of non-violent actions performed by his organization. During his fight against segregation he and his followers question themselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating? Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” Being the most earnest supporter of nonviolent direct action, Kings in his letter accepts the claim that he is an extremist, only he states that there are two sides of going to extremes and he is on the one that preaches the “extremism in love”. Strong moral believes made a group of people successful in their struggle against society and one of their major advantages was that they lived up to their promises for nonviolent resistance.

Finally, the third appeal made by King in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was a conscious surrender to struggle and suffering for defending their morals. Being aware of the “ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail” King nevertheless goes on fight against segregation in southern society and by doing this he sets an example for his followers, who should not be afraid of suffering for justice. The fact that black people were being treated cruelly in the jails didn’t stop King, because his strong belief in fight for segregation overshadowed all fears and doubts.

“Letter From Birmingham Jail” became the classics of world literature and a historical discussion of civil disobedience as a moral way to fight for justice. King’s work is an appeal to both black and white American society, the political, social and religious community and entire humanity to discourage segregation and to encourage equality and solidarity among all citizens.


Martin Luther, Jr King. (August 1, 1994) Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

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