The eight white clergymen who publicly criticized Dr. King and the Birmingham campaign represent the ignorance and complacency that the civil rights movement had to face from the white community in the 1950s and 1960s. Although these clergymen were religious leaders who supposedly possessed strong moral compasses and cared about diminishing human suffering, they condemned the civil rights movement and its push for equality. In his response to their criticism, Dr. King points out their hypocrisy and expresses disappointment that they didn’t stand with the civil rights movement and support its attempts to fight injustice. In particular, their complaint that the Birmingham campaign was poorly timed is indicative of just how unmotivated and naïve many white people were at the time—even though Black Americans had been suffering and waiting for freedom for hundreds of years, white people like the clergymen tried to argue that Black people should continue to wait patiently for change to come. The fact that such a callous and unempathetic viewpoint came from a group of religious leaders underscores the extent to which white Americans resisted any kind of progress toward racial equality; if even people who were supposed to believe in things like justice and compassion couldn’t see the urgent need for change, then it’s clear that the civil rights movement had quite a lot of work to do in order to get through to the rest of the white population.
The White Clergymen Quotes in Why We Can’t Wait
You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well-timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.