Letter from a Birmingham Jail

A couple of years ago, I decided to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” on the MLK Day, as I have the day off from work. The federal holiday was intended to be a day or service, but perhaps we can at least start with learning about the man and his beliefs through his most famous letter. I can’t imagine that anyone could read this letter and not come away changed. It is truly one of the finest writings I’ve ever read.

It is a rather long letter (as he even admits to near in its closing). So, if you prefer to spare the hour with a reading, then this video has you covered. The first four minutes are a reading of the letter by a group of clergymen that prompted King’s response. This embedded video starts after that.

I felt compelled to share this as during our parent’s Sunday school class yesterday, one person raised the question “Why does this person even have a holiday? He wasn’t the only civil rights leader.” I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was raising the question in good faith (the talk immediately changed to a slightly different subject, as these group conversations often do). He stated that his children and others had asked it, and I believe he was saying this so he could justify that the MLK Day holiday was because Martin Luther King Jr was a great American and civil rights leader.

That is true, and even in his brief lifetime (I’m now two years older than he was when he was killed), he became a symbol for a movement much greater than himself1. He was a brilliant and courageous leader who believed in the best of the Christian church and of America. This letter is strong evidence of these things. So the holiday isn’t just a memorial to his service, but I believe to all of what he represented. Its to remind us of the ability of people in this nation to be able to move mountains. Its to remind us that complacency and the desire to maintain order is not an American virtue, but the antithesis of what America was founded on. America can always be a better place for all and no one else is going to come do that hard work for us. Some of us will have to give up some privilege. Some of us will lose time and money to the work. Some people have given so much more, as King risked and ultimate lost his life in doing his work.

So that’s why we have a holiday. Not because of what Kind did, or at least not entirely because of it. Also, to remind us of what we have left to do. We have to do it not because we owe it to King’s memory, but because we owe it to every last American. It’s precisely what it means to be American.

  1. I’m basing a great deal of this statement on Rep. John Lewis’ March graphic novels, which are an amazing read, too. []

Korean-American Day

My mother-in-law is a Korean-American in the sense that she immigrated to this country from S. Korea as an adult. She’s a naturalized citizen and has now lived in the US longer than she lived in Korea (by a over a decade).

My wife is a Korean-American in the sense that, as you just read, one parent is Korean and the other was an American (of European descent, if that’s relevant).

So, it surprised my wife and I to learn that Saturday, Jan. 13th 2018 is the tenth Korean-American Day. This day was picked to honor the original group of immigrants who came from Korea to the US on this day in 1903. We learned about this day from a wonderful story told on Twitter by Gary Lee, who was a former staffer of Pres. Obama. On Lee’s last day at the White House, the president greeted him by saying “An-yeong haas-eh-yeo” (안녕하세요) which means “Hello” in Korean. More specifically, this is the form of hello that shows the level of respect for mutual peers. Though the most common form of hello used, it’s not quite the level of formality that the leader of the free world would use for one of his staffers. And yet it’s exactly the phrase used by Obama (I sincerely doubt this was lost on him, either, knowing his attention to details). If you check out the story, look at the shear joy on Lee’s face at that moment. Let’s appreciate that Obama values and respects other cultures and their contributions in the greatest American way.

So, to my wife, kids, mother-in-law, 해순, and to the 1.8 million immigrants from Korean and their descendants, happy Korean-American day. 감사합니다