Letter From Birmingham Jail

Why is King disappointed with the church leaders upon his arrival to Birmingham?

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Dr. King confesses his disappointment that white moderates have not made this distinction, but considers that whites cannot truly understand “the deep groans and passionate yearnings” of blacks. He does admit that some whites in the South understand the cause and are committed to it, and lists some of them. He praises these people, many of whom he speaks of in generalizations, for marching and suffering alongside blacks who are taking action (180).

He then lists his second disappointment, in the “white church and its leadership.” He notes some exceptions (giving some credit to a few of the clergymen to whom the letter was addressed) but repeats his overall disappointment. As a “minister of the gospel, who loves the church,” Dr. King had originally expected the white church to support the SCLC mission when it first began in Montgomery several years earlier. However, many clergy of the South have proven “outright opponents,” while too many others have “remained silent” in moderation and cowardice. He had again hoped he would find support from the white clergy in Birmingham, but has been disappointed again (181).

He notes how many “southern religious leaders” have encouraged their worshippers to comply with integration because it is the law, but that he has rarely heard them tell their worshippers to do so because it is “morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” He insists that the clergy have largely written off this struggle as a social concern, standing on the sideline instead of taking action. They have, he claims, made a “strange, un-Biblical” separation of the soul and the body (181-182).