Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry Thoreau Debate
Fight For What is Right A cold, snowy winter night in Birmingham, Alabama: one of those nights where you would rather stay inside and sit by a fire while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate. Not everyone is doing that though, for many people walk in the cold all bundled up. Some of the more unfortunate ones stay stranded outside in the freezing weather with not nearly enough layers to keep them warm. In Birmingham, a lot of these people consist of African Americans who cannot afford somewhere to keep warm or are Just simply denied a place to stay based on their skin color.
In this day and age, segregation exists between whites and blacks. A huge issue nationwide, but when it comes to Birmingham everything is taken to a new level. To ensure the separation of whites and blacks, you can see plenty of racial signs and other such tactics used by the city. Although between King and Thoreau, none of these resemble an issue; they both could stay warm under their nice winter Jackets, both had a place to go back home to and more importantly, one was a white man and the other a black man. Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. both made themselves very well known and idolized by many.
They knew each other through a mutual friend but came into contact when they ran into one another here in Birmingham. The segregation in Birmingham continues to get out of control with constant bombings and killings of African American citizens, causing certain groups to want to take action towards reform in Birmingham. The group known as the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights called upon King to help lead them in non-violent reform, while Thoreau made his trip here to witness the reforms. Thoreau’s time of non-violent reform came about years before King even began to participate.
King actually learned Just about everything from Thoreau’s writing, but Thoreau has no sense of that at this very moment. What King learned from Thoreau, he put to use more than Thoreau ever did. Right now the two men share the same non-violent beliefs and want to spread the word in their own separate ways. As the two men walk down the street they engage in friendly small talk. But then they come across a black couple denied entry into a restaurant. Both men look at ach other in disgust. They have seen it happen hundreds of times, but each time they see it, they have the same disgustful reaction.
After what they Just witnessed, the two men started to state their opinions to each other on why they see this type of policy as a disgrace. Henry Thoreau spoke first with a scornful tone in his voice on how he cannot respect his government for allowing instances like these to occur. He continues speaking, “l cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also (180). In response, King expresses to Thoreau, that you cannot put the entire blame on the government even though they could change the laws involving segregation.
But would that change how the white majority feels, especially in southern states. Those people grew up witn certain opinions ot Atrican Americans. King goes on with another strong statement, saying “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly (214). ” With this statement, King tries to tell Thoreau that if they cannot change how people think, then segregation will not change either. After uttering such words, King goes quiet, neither one of them saying anything to each other. Both continue walking with their eyes facing forward, trying to fgure out what they are going to say next.
After a few minutes of walking in the freezing cold with a light flurry of snow, the silence is broken. King ends this when he asks Thoreau how he plans on making a difference for racism and segregation. Thoreau does not respond right away, giving King the opportunity to answer his own question: “Henry, we need to make a difference here in Birmingham. If we do something here then it ay affect the whole nation. And we need to do it in a non-violent manner. ” He continues, “In any non-violent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action (215). King believes that these steps will lead them to a successful reform against segregation. Thoreau agrees with King that they should reform in a non-violent way, but questions who will Join him. He immediately states,
They continue enjoying each other’s company, but ever since their heated discussions the two have not said one word or even batted an eye towards the other. They arrive at the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s apartment where he says one final comment to end the night, “Henry, we have a ‘moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws’ (218). We are nere tor a reason; and that reason involves making a ditterence. So tomorrow let’s get everyone in town together and move forward with this reform. ” Thoreau ooks at King with a blank face and continues his way.
With his incomparable leadership ability, King leads a reform the next day in Birmingham. The reform in Birmingham took place in 1963, and was led by Martin Luther King Jr.. This action brought attention to the integration efforts in the city, and during these nonviolent riots the citys police brought out dogs which attacked the civilians. They would also spray the people with high powered water hoses. But the reform actions demonstrated led to the government changing the city of Birmingham’s discrimination laws.