Martin Luther King Jr. (age 34) was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for eight days on April 12, 1963 for parading without a permit. He was one of 50 people who were arrested that day, and it was his 13th time in jail out of a total 29 times.
While arrested, he read an open letter in a newspaper written fellow church clergymen who called his work “unwise and untimely.” He wrote back with a letter of his own (originally written in margins and paper scraps) urging them, and other white moderates who, like the police, were more interested in order than justice, to understand that civil rights were all about timing. He couldn’t and wouldn’t wait. In fact, he specifically wanted to create tension through direct action in response to the tension that already existed throughout the Jim Crow south.
King’s letter also critiques the idea of blindly following the law. People had been telling him that they don’t like how he breaks laws, but he points out that just because a law is a law doesn’t make it just. The Boston Tea Party was technically illegal, and Hitler’s actions were technically legal. His own arrest was a clear example of a just law being implemented unjustly—he sees no problem with a law asking people to get a permit before they have a parade to ensure the safety of everyone involved. But he maintains that he was not having a parade. He was protesting, which he continued to do after his release a few days later.
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