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. []

Shiny Bowie

My kids love the Moana sound­track and who can blame them? Lin-Manuel Miran­da is amaz­ing. So back in Feb­ru­ary I intro­duced them to the Hamil­ton sound­track. Turns out, there are a lot of kids who love Hamil­ton (despite the not-at-all-age-appro­pri­ate mate­r­i­al in many of the songs).

So, giv­en that music link­ing suc­cess (I’m get­ting burned out lis­ten­ing to Hamil­ton every day), I decid­ed to try my luck with some oth­er music. My son loves the Moana song Shiny which is sung by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Con­chords fame.

The song has a def­i­nite David Bowie feel, some­what influ­enced I think by Flight of the Con­chords Bowies in Space.

So, any­way, I fig­ured he might be inter­est­ed in some clas­sic David Bowie. So, I let him lis­ten to both Changes and Fame on the way back home this evening. He seemed to enjoy them (well, at least he did­n’t ask to lis­ten to any­thing else), so who knows maybe I can get them inter­est­ed into a lot of dif­fer­ent kinds of music. That will def­i­nite­ly save me from get­ting burned out on just a small hand­ful of songs.