Justice Anywhere: In Tribute to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963), ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.

But isn’t the opposite also true? Isn’t justice anywhere also a threat to injustice everywhere – possibly, potentially? Can witnessing acts of justice, or at least the struggle for equality, positively influence long-held prejudices and racist attitudes?

Civil Rights Monument

While King often observed the human heart harden, enfeebled by fear, engulfed in hatred and enflamed by violence, he never lost his belief in the so-called divine possibilities of humankind. Sometimes proof came from the most unlikely of sources, such as this undated letter by Jefferson Poland, now contained in the archives of The King Center:

San Francisco, California

Dear Rev. King:

This is something I think you will want to know.

A few weeks ago a man in Panama City, Florida, one Ross Mullin, sent you a poem which criticized prejudice.

This man was my grandfather. He had been against Jews and Negroes almost all his life. When I had gotten thrown in jail for sit-ins, he had been shocked and angered. Finally, after some 60-odd years of hate, he grew to the point where he wrote you that poem. I had not had time to write him of my pride and joy before I got a telegram telling me he is dead.

As you Christians would put it, he died in a state of grace, newly found. I’m not religious myself, but I think there must be something divine in Man, that he continues to grow until the last hour of death.

Yours,

Jefferson Poland   

***

King responded on November 16, 1962:

Dear Mr. Poland,

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of recent date. Your story was indeed moving. It is encouraging to know that it is possible to grow and change after a long heritage of prejudice. Certainly your participation contributed to this growth and understanding on the part of your grandfather. This incident is a testimony to the Divine possibilities in mankind in our society.  

Thank you for sharing this information with us.

Sincerely yours,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

***

The greatness of leaders is determined not merely by what they say or do, but rather by the changes and responses they elicit in others. As we remember King’s vision of universal justice and interracial equality, the response of one Ross Mullin is not a small part of King’s enduring legacy.   

***

‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly . . . Justice too long delayed is justice denied’ (Letter from a Birmingham Jail).

About Rodney Aist

Rodney Aist, Ph.D. is the course director at St George's College, Jerusalem. Visit him at www.rodneyaist.com.
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4 Responses to Justice Anywhere: In Tribute to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

  1. Greg Barker says:

    Rodney – what a great suggestion about justice anywhere threatens injustice anywhere. I hope that is true or becomes more true! Greg

    • Rodney Aist says:

      Yes, it can be an uphill battle, but surely inspiration and influence run in at least two directions. I just found this letter today, and I admit that I find it a very powerful and moving story for many reasons.

      There are many micro-narratives — real people’s lives — that comprise these larger narratives represented by MLK, and among them are people who want to be influenced or can potentially be influenced by hopeful visions and positive models, and who ultimate want to live in creative and mutually-beneficially relationships with one another. At least, I hope that is true or becomes more true! Great to hear from you!!

  2. Steve Goodier says:

    Thanks for sharing the MLK letter – I’d never read that before.

  3. Ola says:

    Great post Rodney

    If only the media thrived more on personalities that pushed for justice rather than the personalities who show hatred and injustice (but then again when has the idea of spreading love ever made the headlines) those who speak of peace and tolerance need better publicity and therefore will for sure have an even greater affect on bringing about change – I’m a firm believer that they would be able to do this – if only they were given a bigger voice than those who elicit fear in the heart of others.

    As humans no matter what background we have the majority of us are drawn to people who speak sense- we just need to give them a chance to be heard.

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