As we remember the anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. there is one line from his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” that has become the definition of what Black Lives Matter stands for. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968 less than two weeks before what was the 5 year anniversary of the famous Birmingham City jail letter.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. King Jr. wrote from the Alabama prison.
These eight words printed more than 50 years ago, and today have become a protest chant on college campuses, city streets, capitol buildings, and everywhere that Black Lives Matter protests take place.
Dr. King’s letter was a response to public concern of him being in Alabama holding demonstrations despite his headquarters being in Atlanta, Georgia. The eight white Alabama clergymen, who were said to be in favor of racial equality, felt that Dr. King’s demonstrations were “unwise and untimely.” The clergymen also mentioned that despite the protests being peaceful, the Black civil rights activists were inciting local violence through their demonstrations.
This one line from the nearly 7,000 word letter carries so much weight in today’s society as the Black community continues to deal with issues of systemic racism, police violence, mass incarceration, all while living under the United States’ top lawyer and President Trump appointee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Coretta Scott King said if appointed as a federal judge would “irreparably damage the work of my husband.”
As police involved shootings of Black men and women continue to dominate the national news cycle, protesters are not backing down. For incidents that the current administration view as a “local matter” according to the President’s Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, people from across the country have stood with the families of the victims knowing that because of the color their skin it could just as easily been themselves or a loved one and with a lack of police accountability following these shootings, the police are getting away with murder.
Especially following the Ferguson shooting, protests ensued across the country in support of Michael Brown‘s family. Many people even traveled to the small town outside of St. Louis to be at the front lines of the massive protests.
In this famous Dr. King quote, he addresses what Black Americans feel every time we see another Black man or woman killed by the men and women who are paid to protect us. To Black and Brown people, it’s not seen as a “local matter” and we don’t always see it as Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, or most recently Stephon Clark. We see ourselves, our fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, uncles, and friends. The Civil Rights leaders of the 1960’s saw the same thing which is why Dr. King’s quote is such a powerful statement that has become a tagline to his legacy.