Christianity,  Culture

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

On Saturday, John Piper exhorted pastors to use the occasion of Martin Luther King Day to shine the light of the gospel on racism. He also quoted at length from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King’s description of Jim Crow South is one of the most gut-wrenching things you’ll ever read. It’s hard to believe that people once spoke so openly in racist terms, but they did. Here’s Dr. King in his own words:

‘Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six- year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.’

John Piper says this: “You need not be democrat or republican. You need not think things are as bad as they were or as good as they could be. What you need to do is press the issue of ethnic ill-will on the consciences of your people in the name of Jesus, who came to us when we were more alien to him than anyone has ever been to us.”



“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – by Dr. Martin Luther King

“Don’t Waste Martin Luther King Weekend” – by John Piper


  • Jesica

    I grew up in a small town in Texas, with a very racist family. I can remember how my parents would talk about Dr. King…they put him in the same category as Malcom X.

    When I was in my 20s, I was introduced to some of his work, and had the opportunity to read many of his speeches. He was a brilliant, intelligent man…a man who had a heart for Jesus, and for righteousness.

    He is a wonderful example for us of how when God calls a mere person to do something great for His glory, there will ALWAYS be people who will stand in opposition to God’s work…yet we can’t allow that to stop us from being obedient to the Lord’s call on our lives.

    I was just reading George Mueller’s biography to my kids last night, and at the time that he announced to his congregation that God was calling him to open an orphanage for girls in England, there were countless Englanders who told him it was a foolish idea.

    Yet, he obeyed God, and God blessed his work mightily.

    Stories of great followers of Christ, like Dr. King and George Mueller give me great hope.

    Thanks for the post, Denny!

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