Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail could have been written by most of you in your journey for women’s equality. Following are some paragraphs from his speech, which you can read MLK-packet-2013.
One of the basic points in your statement is that our acts are untimely. Some have asked, “Why didn’t you give the new administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this inquiry is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one before it acts. We will be sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Mr. Boutwell will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is much more articulate and gentle than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to the task of maintaining the status quo. The hope I see in Mr. Boutwell is that he will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from the devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.
In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, “follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother.”
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words [sic]“Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that“ justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
We have waited for more than 200 years.
Our hearts go out to those men and women who had to fight for the basic right just to be human in America. That was so wrong, but it was accepted because we found words in the Bible which appeared to justify it. Those words are still in the same Bibles, but we have opened our eyes and see those words in a different light. We have recognized that as God’s people we are called to love our fellow man, and not enslave them. We have seen slavery as contrary to God’s law. Or at least, most have. May God open the eyes of those who still do not see.
Pray with me:
Lord of all, giver of all good things, our hearts are broken and continue to be broken by the willingness of humans to enslave other human beings. One-half of your creation is enslaved to the other half by selected words from your Word. These words have oppressed women in the home and in the church and have denied women their full service to you. We don’t understand why this has been allowed to continue so long. We cry out for our freedom to worship and to serve as you would call. Amen.