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