Remembering the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dear Merrimack College Community,
Almost 60 years ago, in a narrow jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned a letter that became a core text of the civil rights movement and indeed an intellectual reflection on the nature of justice. Dr. King wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963, in response to white clergymen’s criticism of the Birmingham Campaign, a nonviolent campaign against the city’s systemic segregation.
The letter was Dr. King’s edict on the importance of nonviolent, direct action in the face of injustice. It would become widely circulated and republished, and held as one of the many examples of the incredible power Dr. King’s words held.
In the letter, Dr. King references a thinker with whom we in the Merrimack community are very familiar. “I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all,’” wrote Dr. King. Whether it is laws, actions or statements, that which is unjust is fundamentally destructive to society. Discrimination, oppression and social injustices are barriers that have caused too much pain, and have limited our country from realizing its greatest potential.
It is also through the traditions of St. Augustine that we as a Catholic college community understand the importance of seeking truth through inquiry and dialogue. This also sits at the core of Dr. King’s words in the Letter from Birmingham Jail and in his actions as a civil rights leader.
In explaining that a goal of direct action is to lead to negotiation, King wrote, “Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue.”
Just as it was in 1963, today dialogue is a vital component of ensuring equity for all people. It is through dialogue we as a society can work together to foster a just, peaceful and sustainable world. Dialogue informs the wisdom in which society bases its decisions.
As we honor Dr. King’s legacy this day, let us affirm our commitment to dialogue and inquiry that will hearten our community’s ongoing work to value, nurture and respect all identities and differences.
To further honor the life and legacy of Dr. King, the Merrimack community is invited to “Breaking Bread: A conversation and dinner focusing on our “beloved community” on Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 6 p.m. at the Unity House. If you have any questions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you are able today, stop by the Office of Intercultural Initiatives and Athletics information table that will bring awareness to the legacy of Dr. King by providing resources and a reading list on the civil rights movement. They will be set up at Hammel Court prior to the women’s basketball (5 p.m.) and men’s basketball (7:30 p.m.) MLK Day doubleheader.
Be safe, be well and God bless.
Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D.