In college, I’d often read in the university library at night. Spent hours there. I used to pack a novel and a small snack. But schoolwork mostly. It was in this library I first read Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” written on April 16, 1963, a response to a public statement of caution issued by eight religious leaders of the South. King was 34 when he wrote it. I was 18 when I read it. The power of this letter, King's patience and reasoning, left a mark, like a tattoo on my consciousness.
What follows here are the lines from the letter that still serve as reminders for me now. I sometimes fail, but I work daily to honor King in my actions. So I need these lines. And I will take them to my grave.
“I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”
“…at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust…. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
“To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
Source: "Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]" - African Studies Center - University of Pennsylvania - http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.