As Boston reels from yesterday's horrific bombings, it's hard not to turn an eye back to the past given today's 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter From A Birmingham Jail." The letter was the first of a series of historic events that year in the Civil Rights movement. Those moments would come to include the chilling scene in May of that year in which Birmingham Police Chief Bull Connor turned police dogs and fire hoses loose on children and, in September, the bombing at the 16th Street Church that killed four young girls and injured several others. Crude bombings like that yesterday in Boston were a common occurrence in Civil Rights-era Birmingham - such that it actually earned the nickname "Bombingham."
Of course, it would be foolhardy to directly tie yesterday's events in Boston to the events of Civil Rights-era Birmingham: they're completely separate events at different times in history with different contexts. Yet the feelings of dread and fear that follow must be eerily similar, a rattled populace seeking solace for such a violent intrusion that took innocent lives for no reason.
And in King's letter from the jail 50 years ago, there are passages that, even parsed out of the original context, can still bring some solace today.
Moreover, 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.
You can read the entire MLK letter here.