An Assessment Of The Morality Of Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Prison

On October 7th Byron Lawrie was arrested outside Parliament House for standing in the middle of the road with a BBQ. Referring to Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Prison, evaluate the morality of his protest.

On October 7th, Byron Lawrie, the minister of barbeques, was arrested due to his protest against climate change. He was charged with public nuisance but pleaded not guilty. In 1963, King was arrested during the Birmingham campaign against racism and segregation and was charged with disobeying the ruling. In the Birmingham jail, King wrote the letter “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as a response to eight white clergymen’s criticism of their campaign. Through reading King’s letter, it can be found that Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest should be appreciated as he takes moral responsibility to address social problems, promote negotiation, and contribute to the modification of laws.

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First of all, Byron Lawrie protests that he is taking moral responsibility to address social problems. Martin Luther King (1963) suggests in his letter that the privileged groups have seldom given up their privileges voluntarily, and it depends on the oppressors to demand freedom (1963). By saying this Martin Luther King implies that common people should be responsible for addressing social problems that harm their interests. It is obvious that Byron Lawrie assumes this responsibility. As climate change becomes a global problem that affects every one’s life, citizens should be aware of the necessity to ask the government or lawmakers to realize the seriousness of this problem. 

Through this protest, he successfully catches individuals’ and the government’s attention to the problem of climate change, which can push society to think how to stop climate change. In fact, non-violent movement is one of the most effective ways to address a social problem. According to Sharp (2010), non-violent movement is the most powerful means available to individuals who struggle for social changes. Irene (2016) also suggests that non-violent movements can create conditions for a more sustainable society that can satisfy the need of all people. It is evident that non-violent movements play an important role in making social progress because it can bring necessary changes to society. Climate change has threatened not only human life but also the survival of other species. For example, climate change has led to more frequent extreme weather events, rising sea level, and a higher death rate of wildlife. Therefore, citizens have the moral responsibility to protest against climate change so as to bring social changes, which contributes to a sustainable society.

Secondly, Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest can promote the negotiation between the government and the citizens so that the problem of climate change can be better addressed. According to Marin Luther King, nonviolent direction action such as marches, sit-ins is to open the door to negotiation, which is one of the four basic steps followed by a nonviolent campaign (2). It is evident that the address of social problem requires negotiation: the negotiation between the privileged group and the common people. Through negotiation, the two groups reach a consensus and take action to solve the problem. Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest can help achieve this purpose.

 For one thing, as Martin Luther King suggests, nonviolent direct action can create a crisis in which a community that refused to confront an issue is forced to negotiate. Climate change is an issue that the privileged group is unwilling to recognize to some extent as addressing the problem of climate change can lead to economic loss. In Australia, the ten biggest climate polluters are big companies such as AGL Energy, Energy/Australia and CS Energy, which contribute to the country’s economy significantly. Considering the economic loss of combating climate change, the government and privileged groups may not take enough action. At this point, it is important to take nonviolent protest so as to create a crisis making negotiation possible. Only in this way, can the problem of climate change be better addressed.

Additionally, Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest can also contribute to the modification of laws, that can significantly help solve the problem of climate change. According to Marth Luther King (1963), “an unjust law is not law at all” (p.3). In order to solve social problems, unjust laws have to be modified or even eliminated. Combating climate change requires relevant legislation. It is important to modify unjust laws that account for climate change. The problem of climate change, to some extent, falls into the category of the Tragedy of the Commons as it is largely caused by the overconsumption of natural resources. According to Elinor Ostrom (1999), an effective way to manage a Commons is to “change rules as an adaptive process” (p.523). It is obvious that Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest though to some extent violates traffic rules and social rules, is of great significance to the let the public realize the necessity of changing rules rewarding climate change.

Following Queensland’s new Human Rights Act, Byron Lawrie’s climate protest is moral as it can help make social changes, promote negotiations between the government and citizens and make the modification of laws possible.


  1. Irene, O. F. (2016). Non-violent campaign and social change: lessons from liberia and campaigns
  2. to ban landmine and cluster munitions. International Journal of Peace Studies, 21(1): 45-70.
  3. Sharp, G. (2010). From Dictatorship to Democracy. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution.
  4. Ostrom, E. (1999). Coping with tragedies of the commons. Annual Review of Political Science,

My Poetry Analysis Of I Have A Dream Speech By Dr. Martin Luther King Jr And Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s Poem “The Slave Auction”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his August 28th, 1963 speech: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal’ (King, pp 4, paragraph 5). He was talking about the American slave era. [Between the 17th century” until “January 1, 1863 when it was abolished] ( As an African American, I’ve never personally been blatantly mistreated because of my skin color, so I don’t think much of issues of race very often.

I only see acts of racism on the news or overhear someone else talking about it. When I hear the word “slavery” I think of people of color being sold, chained, beaten, and forced to work in cotton fields for no pay. I picture slaves living in separate quarters and women forced to be maids to their owners. I envision slave owners raising select slave children as their own, but I never paid much attention to fact that many slaves were separated from their loved ones. I haven’t thought of the sorrow and anger this impact would have on slaves and their families.

In Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s poem “The Slave Auction”, The author develops the poem’s theme of sorrow and anger by using poetry elements such as, tone, imagery, rhymes and quatrains. She empathizes with the slaves and channels her anger towards the ignorance of privileged white people, who don’t understand what it was like for a black person to have their loved one ripped away from them and sold into slavery.

Harper’s creative use of tone evokes a sense of sorrow and anger. This shows the emotions of sadness in a way that we the reader can feel, such as in the first stanza of the poem, which reads:

The sale began-young girls were there,

Defenseless in their wretchedness,

Whose stifled sobs of deep despair

Revealed their anguish and distress. (lines 1-4)

Depending on the author’s use of “stifled”, It’s likely that the young girls were either in so much anguish, that they couldn’t breathe, or they had to restrain their feelings to avoid punishment. This would make them appear more attractive and profitable. Another example describing sorrow and anger, is the last line in the second stanza, which reads, “While tyrants bartered them for gold” (8). Harper is blatantly directing her anger at the slave owners by calling them tyrants. In the final two stanzas,

“Ye who have laid your love to rest,

And wept above their lifeless clay,

Know not the anguish of that breast,

Whose lov’d are rudely torn away

Ye may not know how desolate

Are bosoms rudely forced to part,

And how a dull and heavy weight

Will press the life-drops from the heart” (17-24).

By using the word “ye”, Harper is directing her anger towards the ignorance of privileged white people, who don’t know what it was like to be enslaved and have their loved one taken from them, which adds to the theme of the poem.

Harper also uses imagery to illustrate feelings of sorrow and anger, which adds to the poem’s theme. These describe emotions of the slaves and their loved ones in a way in which the reader could empathize with the slaves in the poem. For example, “Mournful band” (16) could easily be visualized as the sound of many slaves moaning and crying together in unison, like a symphony of sadness. “Their lifeless clay” (18) is referring to a corpse. Another use of imagery depicts stress and anguish as “a dull and heavy weight” (23). This suggests that when we feel upset, sad, or stressed, sometimes literally feels like a weight is on our chest. Lastly, “And men whose sole crime was their hue” (13), clearly paints a picture of overt racism.

Rhymes help connect the feelings of sorrow by giving a flow to the poem. Harper cleverly links the feelings and tone to the theme by rhyming the last word of the sentence with the alternating sentence of that stanza. For example, “and saw their children sold” (6) and “While tyrants bartered them for gold” (8) Both “sold” and “gold” which rhyme, are referring to a purchase of a slave. “And mothers stood with streaming eyes” (5) and “Unheeded rose their bitter cries” (7) “Eyes” and “Cries” also rhyme and describe people crying. And lastly, “And men, whose sole crime was their hue” (13), “and frail and shrinking children, too” (15) This example is describing two types of slaves: men and children. While the single words “hue “and “too” don’t necessarily have a correlation of their own, the rhyme does connect the content of what comes before in their associated sentences together.

To further add to the theme of the poem, Harper uses quatrains to organize feelings of sorrow and anger and associate them into stanzas. Each group of four sentences in the stanza has the same tone, while designating who the emotions are connected to. Here are a few examples. In stanza one,

The sale began-young girls were there,

Defenseless in their wretchedness,

Whose stifles sobs of deep despair

Revealed their anguish and distress (1-4),

the author is talking about children in distress. In stanza two,

And mothers stood with streaming eyes,

And saw their dearest children sold;

Unheeded rose their bitter cries,

While tyrants bartered them for gold. (5-8),

is referring to mothers crying because their children were sold. Finally, in stanza five and six,

Ye who have laid your love to rest,

And wept above their lifeless clay,

Know not the anguish of that breast,

Whose lov’d are rudely torn away. (21-24)

are denoting privileged white people who never had to endure the pain and hardships the slaves went through. They were safe from harm because they were never judged by the color of their white skin.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also said in his speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (King, pp 5, paragraph 1). In this poem, the author uses specific poetry elements to effectively express the pain and sorrow the loved ones of slaves who were judged by their skin color. She also addresses the fact that privileged white people cannot relate to the pain, sorrow and grief that their loved ones have endured. They weren’t judged by the color of their skin to the point where they were enslaved, and they suffered like the slaves did. I myself, have lost loved ones to death, but only by natural causes. I have known sorrow, anger, and grief. But like the privileged white people the author indirectly alludes to in the last two stanzas of the poem, I have never experienced those feelings while also knowing my loved ones are somewhere else, tortured, raped… unsure if they are alive or not. That is a higher level of sorrow that I could never relate to. I can’t even begin to imagine how that would feel inside. 

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