Letter from a Birmingham Jail and the Birmingham Campaign

Paul Fischer
Dr. Felicia Kornbluh
US History: the 60’s

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”
Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham expanded the movement or Birmingham Campaign beyond the stuffy intellectual laws, decrying the “analysis” that had ineffectively left his people persecuted and poor, while standing up in a tangible and legitimate fashion for what he believed in. Nearly a generation after Gandhi, King shows that unguided protest invites brutality and effectively, if not for his own lifetime then for posterity, provides the case and leadership to fight back against the oppression, segregation, and disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the United States at the time.
At the time of the letter, the movement was the victim of a “broken promise” and Martin Luther King Jr. was facing a withdrawal and retreat from Birmingham. A key part, and he was told by supporters to not do this from lack of popular protest, was the involvement of children in his protest. By moving beyond the conventional means of protest including restaurant sit-ins and bus boycotts to involving the children immediately and directly affected by protest or inaction, Martin Luther King Jr. showed the full involvement and mobilization of these communities towards impacting the dire policies in place.
There are four basic steps to nonviolent campaign, which are outlined in the letter from jail. Then proof is provided that this has occurred in the campaign. The irony of Martin Luther King Jr. writing on whether “you are able to endure the ordeal of jail?” while in jail himself is not lost on the rhetorical power, repition and reinforcement make the letter itself, as a description of a campaign, an example of nonviolent maneuvers in a conflict. This is contracted in a sort of give and take contemporary discussion in the letter which takes multiple viewpoints into consideration while retaining the understanding that there is a common goal for those who will read his letter; it is for the doubting Thomases, the fellow supporters, and the soldiers of equality who marched with him themselves.
The intended audience is important as there is nothing in this letter that could infuriurate one of the oppositional persuasion, in fact it might even bring them around. That is a sign of nonviolent demonstration in itself. The mere point that in this campaign, outlined as a battle without violence, in the publicity of this letter the reverend invites his opponents and friends to the drawing board alike and still retains the moral rectitude and personal control to help them see the moral light as well as the opportunity to give his allies the tools to make progress.  The definition of just and unjust proves a pivotal point in this letter as it is explained that “an unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself” and in defining the parameters of action, there has been a philosophical or moral boundary that is crossed over which cannot be retreated.
Though there was ultimately a retreat from Birmingham, it was a retreat of victory. The letter was written, four young school girls had been killed in a church bombing and America began to see the power status quo as barbaric and brutal, reactionary in a silently murderous manner. By appealing beyond those at the planning table or drawing board, the most radical of his compatriots, and appealing to the country’s greater fear of communism, this letter may be written from a jail of defeat but it represents the call to action, like the Gettysburg Address for Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War that will give the Civil Rights movement the authority and power to dwarf and vigorously redefine the opposition as well as their own boundaries and goals.
In the end of the letter, a tribute is paid to those who are the most directly and abundantly targeted with this appeal. His fellow demonstrators, the “demo” teams that blew up American politics in the mid 1960’s, ones who may at the time have felt discouraged or afraid. They may have felt that the battle was uphill or steep, but as he quotes, “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest” which is not a quote from Gollum of Lord of the Rings but an indication of the undying loyalty of those around him, and of the incipient and pervasive damage on the African-American population of under-education, health-care, and lower standards of living. It shows the willingness of his movement to carry out the battle until it is finished, and to do it on the terms which have been shown to work and are outlined by Martin Luther King Jr. in this letter.

Societal impact of currently under-regulated legal substances: Alcohol and Marijuana in comparison to lead

As seen in the Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography scan imaging, the cognitive damage from alcohol is legitimate; there is damage being done to the brain in significant and substantial amounts over any amount of use. In a heavy marijuana user, one region of the brain increased in function and activity, while the rest remained strong. It would appear that humans have become used to a level of alcohol (a naturally fermenting fruit rotting on the tree at late harvest will not have alcohol over .5%). For adults, while the damage is not permanent, it is significant, and by removing the toxins the brain has the capability of returning to normal. See the video below, posted before, to see an example of this.
What is the impact of this? It was in low and moderate marijuana users found to be nearly 5 points on average an increase in IQ (Fried et al.); there have been studies that suggest marijuana has a detrimental effect, though this can be attributed to increased levels of toxoplasmosis gondii as marijuana is grown in greater amounts in home operations and has exposure to cat feces and has only been observed in states with illegal or decriminalized marijuana laws and recent exposure of leading anti-marijuana academics as corrupt and accepting corporate bribes without disclosing their anti-marijuana bias (Fang). Of low and moderate alcohol users: a “number of studies have noted a measurable diminution in neuropsychologic parameters in habitual consumers of moderate amounts of ethanol” (Eckardt). Taken into context, the estimated damage of lead poisoning (affecting the majority of Americans before the 90’s or so, but today only affecting a minority) is 5-10 points  (Bellinger). Translated, as seen on the graph below, this means that the first toxin a population is exposed to will reduce the number of gifted (IQ of 125+) by 80% while when multiple of these are introduced, the bell curve flattens and the damage from 15 points for example will well within 85% (How Pollutants Affect Brain Development). Due to this nature of the bell curve and the improving environmental standards in the United States, there is now the capability to definitely recommend the regulation of alcoholic drinks and foods to under .5 percent.



It should be noted, however, that this graph is not perfectly accurate, and there is a skew on the graph towards a lower IQ where the population is more gradual, as seen demonstrated in actual IQ data below. This means that the effect that is being observed on the high end of the scale is “mirrored” on those with functional or mental retardation and with some substance there is no noticeable effect, and at some point there is an amount at which the number dramatically increase (closer to 20 or 30 points, perhaps associated with illegal narcotic or prescription drug use). An example of this can be seen by looking at the Chinese economy following the legalization of hard drugs in the 1800’s which was associated with a loss of approximately 95% of the economy (Major Economies’ Share of Global GDP, 0-2005) in just a few generations.
The economic impact of the loss of the gifted group is real, as IQ is directly correlated with achievement, productivity, and income. While the income difference between 90 and 110 IQ points is in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, from 110 to 125 or 130 can be over 500,000 dollars annually (seen below). So it may only be two percent of the population that is substantially impacted by lead poisoning or unregulated alcohol and marijuana, but the impact to the economy is exponentially greater. This can be seen in the change in the workplace today, populations with clean environments, high-tech industry and low substance use rates have averages of 10 or 20, sometimes just 5 or 6 employees for each manager. Low tech industry in the 1960’s involved hundreds of employees per manager or executive in companies and poorly qualified supervision. In countries and parts of the US with low environmental standards or high use rates this can continue to be seen, both legally and in illegal sweatshops.
By regulating the use of these substances to fall within safe levels, the cultural and societal benefits can be retained, while creating an artificial “Flynn” effect, where environmental factors such as health care, nutrition, or mating and marriage regulation and rules gives a boost to the population as seen below.
Addendum: Due to information on infection from toxoplasma gondii and resulting psychosis and schizophrenia that has only been compiled in a meta-analysis in 2014, the impact of marijuana on the IQ may be incorrect in places with legalized marijuana industries. It would appear that the most severe perceived negative effects of marijuana are in actuality the effect of a small parasite that is present in many cats, the fece of which will infect soil and crops in a home-grow operation for up to a year. The information provided here on the impact of illegal or decriminalized marijuana holds, however, as these laws encourage home grown operations meaning many users will contract the parasite as they will buy from a cat owner at some point.
Bellinger, David C., Karen M. Stiles, and Herbert L. Needleman. “Low-level lead exposure, intelligence and academic achievement: a long-term follow-up study.” Pediatrics 90.6 (1992): 855-861.
Eckardt, Michael J., et al. “Effects of Moderate Alcohol Consumption on the Central Nervous System*.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research22.5 (1998): 998-1040.
Fang, Lee. “Leading Anti-Marijuana Academics Are Paid By Painkiller Drug Companies | VICE News.” VICE News RSS. VICE News, 7 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.
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