After reading both documents, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and “Obama Race Speech,” I am left appalled. Both documents touched on main topics that were experienced in the late 1950s and the early 1960s and those that we continuously experience in the United States in today’s society such as racism, freedom of speech, inclusiveness, and hatred targeted towards many identities we as people do not make an effort to learn more about by doing our research.
Having the opportunity to read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” for the first time, mark side notes about the points that Dr. King made in his lengthy letter, and interpreting what he wanted to communicate to the people who contributed to the injustice taking over the city of Birmingham, Alabama left me speechless. After beginning to read the document, Dr. King stated that “the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative” which touched me the most from the first page. Continuing to read the document, I could interpret how educated Dr. King was sharing especially sharing the four basic steps to a nonviolent campaign, which would have been great to be aware of before starting the nonviolent and silent protest of the #BeingBlackAtIllinois movement at the University of Illinois. Having watched the animated “Our Friend, Martin” movie/documentary growing up and being able to put myself in the shoes of those characters, reading this document several years later, it made me more aware of how African-Americans were treated horribly than expressed in a movie that taught young children of actions that were occurring in the South and frankly, I am a bit pissed that this movie did not give more detail to what I read.
Reading about the humiliating racial signs also made me grasp how African-Americans were treated in the South. I wanted to gain more knowledge about the humiliating racial signs that were posted in the South and searched via Google “segregation signs in the south” and could not believe the signs that had a greater meaning than “white only” or “colored only.” I was more upset at the fact that the signs were taken down at put back up while some establishments kept signs up segregating members of the African-American culture and not practicing living in an equality jurisdiction. I cannot picture how society would be today if it were still segregated. Would there be African-American and White residence halls, classrooms, and different parts of campuses that are segregated? Would there be African-American professors teaching only African-American students and White professors teaching only White students? This makes me question where our wonderful international students that choose to further their education in the United States would be classified as – by the color of their skin or the respective language they spoke.
Dr. King also shared the main point of his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which is the reason he was arrested. Dr. King was arrested “on a charge of parading without a permit” and goes into greater depth about the ordinance that permits a parade by stating “an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.” At the time, I would assume that many African-Americans were not educated on the procedures of how to obtain a permit and were not aware of ordinances in the city of Birmingham, AL. I would assume that they were not educated and familiar with the ordinances and obtaining of a permit because of “the city’s white power structure” that Dr. King mentioned in the first few lines of the document, this still does not make it right to not inform non-White residents of Birmingham, AL, citizens of the United States, humans living in world about their community and certain procedures to being heard without being imprisoned. I know I might be rambling on and on about Dr. King’s letter from jail, but this is my first time actually going through it and interpreting it as much as I have.
Dr. King also shared another main point to his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which he posed in the questions, “Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice” which were both great questions to ask during this time in history. I am saddened that churches in the South did not support Dr. King and all other individuals that were apart of his movement. It saddens me that he did not receive the support that I would hope leaders of churches then and today would give an individual or group of people especially witnessing everything taking place in the community. It only makes me question how the world would be today if it were not for the many contributions, fights, and helping people realize certain issues that made a huge difference to the world of segregation. I’m going to stop talking about Dr. King’s Letter because the more I talk about it, the more upset and intolerant I become.
In President Obama’s Race Speech, I felt this was a great document to read that went along very well with Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. President Obama’s speech talking about seeing the world coming together as one no matter if we might not look the same or have the same backgrounds. Obama stated that we should be “working towards a better future for our children and grandchildren” which is the same goal Dr. King wanted back in the early 1960s. While reading Obama’s speech, I was very compelled when I came across a sentence that said “in South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies” as there has been much controversy on campus about a Confederate Flag being displayed in a window at Pennsylvania Residence Halls that students have constantly been putting a request in to have that resident take down the flag as it is very offensive. I had to remind myself that this was in 2008, but still, I wanted to know if Confederate Flags flew in South Carolina, so I asked one of my friends on the gymnastics team who was able to verify he has not seen many Confederate Flags.
I enjoyed reading carefully in-between the lines of Obama’s speech as I can recall the remarks Reverend Jeremiah Wright made as if it were yesterday. What I enjoyed most about Obama’s speech was that no he did not bash Reverend Wright as he is the main person that introduced him to his Christian beliefs, but he presented two sides, admitting that Reverend Wright was wrong to make such comments at a time when our nation needed restructuring and sharing how race is a problem in the United States which still is not being handled properly or given as much attention as our economy in our society today. Obama defined how society sees people that are given an advantage – African-Americans get an advantage in obtaining a good job or spot in a good college because of injustice, a word that Dr. King used in his letter as well, that they themselves never committed. I was surprised that Obama mentioned that Caucasians don’t feel they have been particularly privileged by their race and that they have not been handed anything because they’ve built it from scratch. It’s powerful to say something like this but I would have to disagree because this is more of a generalization as not all Caucasians have been built things from scratch and as not all African-Americans have landed good jobs that get a reaction out of Caucasians – and we are still forgetting about our international friends from other countries that live in America as well so where do they fit categorically? I think this was an awesome speech however, I feel that we should really steer away from the “white” and “black” broadness and be more specific in addition to incorporating those who might not have been citizens that do share the same resources that we do and who are our brothers and sisters ideally.
Overall, both readings educated me more about how times were during the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s, the difficulties the world had with segregation, and even leading up to today’s society how racism is still alive. My both of my grandmothers were born before the early 1960s, one being born in Mobile, Alabama in 1931 and another being born in Selma, Alabama in 1924 and I did not value their stories growing up as I imagined “oh, these are just old people telling more stories about their time” and I wish I would have had my ears open listening to them both talk about being sprayed with water hoses and having to use bathrooms and classrooms that were designated for “colored folk” that only African-Americans could use. I remember when my grandmother passed away in 2001 and I came across her birth certificate from when she was born in 1924 and under race it read the words “NEGRO” which had to hurt at that time being called that. Both reading only encourage and challenge me to accept people for who they are while creating opportunities for other races/ethnicities to get to know the African-American culture in exchange for me to learn about their culture. I am excited about the dynamic ethnicities we have attending the Civil Rights Pilgrimage Trip as it will be my goal next week to learn more about each and every participant so that I can come back and reflect from my entire experience while walking in the footsteps of what was once a segregated community the South.