Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to eight white clergymen from Alabama, in response to his actions that led to his detention. They had accused him of causing racial unrest, claiming that racial matters should be solved in courts and not in the streets as King Jr. had led his followers into (Jonathan, 2001). He was thrown to the Birmingham jail and wrote the letter on newspaper edges, which was the only space available to him. He was responding to the clergymen’s view on his intolerable behavior. On the other hand, Barack Obama made his speech during his campaigns to become the president of the USA. His speech was a response to racism, especially after the inflammatory remarks made by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright had been a key figure in Obama’s campaign, but he was dropped off after the remarks that seemed to promote racism.
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While both authors were addressing a similar problem of racism in the United States, they did so in very different circumstances and different levels of freedom. Martin Luther was writing his work from a cell in Birmingham, while Obama was making a public statement seeking to become a president of the nation where racism was still present. Obama’s speech showed that the Blacks and the Whites were equal in control of uniting America, while King Jr. was simply making a plea to white people asking to stop discriminating black people and discuss with them how racism could be ended without infighting (Snow, 1994). These scenarios show that there was a very significant improvement in the events of King Jr. and Obama.
King Jr. complains of the status of the existing law that gives the Whites a better position in negotiating for power. He makes a lot of comments citing unjust laws and states that there was no way that they could obey unjust laws (Snow, 1994). This is an indication that the ground was too rough, even from the legislation point of view for the non-Whites. The law was against the Black people and there was little that they could do about it. Just like the enforcers, it was biased and unfriendly. On the other hand, Obama’s speech creates another impression, implying that the law is better now, but has not been well implemented. He cites the Brown v. Board of Education case, which banned the segregation of schools, yet it was not fixed to date. King’s case was very different because the Blacks were not protected by law, while Obama only complained of unimplemented laws.
The two statements show different levels of control by the authors. While King Jr. is making pleas to the authorities to accept discussion with them over ending racial discrimination, Obama is making a clear expression that both the Whites and the Blacks must be involved in the fight against segregation. King Jr. has been fighting for a platform in order to allow the black people to be heard, but feels that no one was listening and the remaining option was to take to the streets during Easter to ensure that they disrupt shoppers and make the government intervene and listen to their plea. Instead of someone listening to him, King was thrown to jail from where he was writing the letter. Obama, on the other hand was creating a strong impression that the platform for a dialogue was then perfectly rooted, and that the two races, along with the others would be able to consolidate the perfect union that they have been yearning for. He states:
But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union (Alfred, 2008).
The two statements are an indication of changes in roles among the Americans, and the sign of significant success in the fight against racism.
Racism was traditionally anchored on discrediting the other party while giving a credit to someone’s personal side. The black people, who were strongly against the segregation, always supported one another even during the time when some of them were clearly on the wrong and unethical side. They would amass all the available support, as long as whatever they were involved in was against their opponents – the Whites (Jonathan, 2001). Martin Luther King Jr. showed his kind of support in his letter. He did not condemn the deeds of Elijah Muhammad Muslim movement, but tried to justify its existence. In his letter, he wrote:
It is expressed in the various Black Nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible ‘devil.’ (Alfred, 2008)
This was contrary to Obama’s message in the speech. Though he defended the deeds of the Reverend, citing that his words must have arisen from the effects of the discrimination during his earlier years, he equally condemned the words of the Reverend equivocally (Alfred, 2008). He even went ahead to remove him from the campaign group showing that blacks had evolved to go against their people in quest for a racial equality.
King’s letter seemed to have been written at the height of racism and inequality (Snow, 1994). His letter was bitter and full of examples from freedom fighters. He has used many examples of freedom fighters, including the Biblical liberation of the likes of Shadrack and Meschak (Jonathan, 2001). He used a language that showed his discontent on the way he was treated by the government for raising legitimate issues. At some point, he stated that the African states were improving their democratic arena, while the US remained stuck on their racial and undemocratic times. This indicated that there were a lot of injustices, and such bitterness coming from a person who was a preacher to other clergy men would not have had more weight in expression.
Obama’s speech, on the other hand, shows a more integrated society, only mentioning a few patches of racial abuse. He noted the media improvement where they went out to Carolina and “scoured every exit poll” to determine whether there were any traces of racial abuses. This was a very important issue as it indicated that the media was not biased towards the side of white or black people. Traditionally, the Blacks were not allowed to have own property, and the media houses were owned by the White powerful people who, in most cases, were racists. The indication or impression that such trend had changed signified the improvements of the racial status in the United States. King Jr.’s remarks that were said to have reached at least 84% of the Americans were a great improvement from the media and his situation. King Jr. could only afford to write from newspaper margins to express his points of view and he sent the letter in parts to the people outside the cell (Jonathan, 2001). He was bound and could not communicate with his followers.
The paper has clearly shown that there were many differences between the circumstances that surrounded King Jr. and those that surrounded Obama. Obama’s time was interactive and the Blacks were almost equal to the Whites despite the small patches of racism. This could be seen from the examples that have been discussed.
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