There follows a quote from Martin Luther King's letter written from the jail in Birmingham, Alabama in April of 1963. King had been jailed for refusing to discontinue his protests against the abuse of justice in the segregated South. He took the opportunity of his imprisonment to make a statement of the foundations of the movement to non-violently enact 'extreme' measures to replace the passive acceptance of conditions which were an outrage to the conscience of just men.
"I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."
William Blake could be added to the list of men who were willing to advocate extreme measures to effect the changes which would reverse oppression. He spoke through his poetry especially through the prophetic voice of Los and in the following poem.
|Yale Center for British Art|
America, A Prophecy Frontispiece
Songs and Ballads, (E 489) The Grey Monk "I die I die the Mother said My Children die for lack of Bread What more has the merciless Tyrant said The Monk sat down on the Stony Bed The blood red ran from the Grey Monks side His hands & feet were wounded wide His Body bent his arms & knees Like to the roots of ancient trees His eye was dry no tear could flow A hollow groan first spoke his woe He trembled & shudderd upon the Bed At length with a feeble cry he said When God commanded this hand to write In the studious hours of deep midnight He told me the writing I wrote should prove The Bane of all that on Earth I lovd My Brother starvd between two Walls His Childrens Cry my Soul appalls I mockd at the wrack & griding chain My bent body mocks their torturing pain Thy Father drew his sword in the North With his thousands strong he marched forth Thy Brother has armd himself in Steel To avenge the wrongs thy Children feel But vain the Sword & vain the Bow They never can work Wars overthrow The Hermits Prayer & the Widows tear Alone can free the World from fear For a Tear is an Intellectual Thing And a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King And the bitter groan of the Martyrs woe Is an Arrow from the Almighties Bow The hand of Vengeance found the Bed To which the Purple Tyrant fled The iron hand crushd the Tyrants head And became a Tyrant in his stead"