tv U.S. Senate Reading of ML Ks 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail CSPAN June 16, 2020 6:15pm-7:44pm EDT
elow their environment. the other jesus christ was an extremist for love. truth and goodness. and thereby rose above his environment. perhaps the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. >> senator from utah. i continue reading a letter from birmingham jail but doctor martin luther king junior. i had hoped the white moderates would see this need. perhaps i was too optimistic. perhaps i expected too much. i suppose i should've realized that with few members of the oppressor race can understand deep row race. and still fewer had been division to see the injustice must be rooted out by strong persistent and determined action.
i'm thankful however some are white brothers in the south have grasped the meaning of the social revolution committed themselves to it. they are two" in quantity, beginning quality some such as ralph mcgill william smith a golden and others. i've written about her struggle and eloquent and prophetic terms. others have march of this down nameless streets of the south. in languish in filthy roach infested jails. suffered the abuse and brutalityew of policeman who viewed them as dirty, expletive lovers. among so many of their moderate brothers and sisters they recognize the urgency of the moment and it says the need for powerful action antidotes to combat the disease segregation. that's we take note of my major distant appointments. i'm in disappointed with the white church and its
leadership. of course are some notable exceptions. i am mindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stance on this issue. ist commend you reverend. christians stand on this past sunday and welcoming negroes to your worship service. a nonsegregated basis. i commended the catholic leaders ofof the state for integrating spring college several years ago. but despite these notable exceptions i must honestly reiterate that i have been disappointed with the church. i did not say this is one of those negative critics that always find something wrong with the church. i say this as a minister of the gospel who loves the church. who has nurtured in his bosom. who has been sustained by spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the court of life shall lengthen. when i was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the test in montgomery, alabama a few years ago i felt we would be
supported by the white church redeveloped into ministers and priests and rabbis of the south would be among our strongest allies. instead, some have been outright opponents. refusing to understand the freedom movement. misrepresenting his leaders. all too many others have been more cautious than courageous. have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows. ca in spite of my shattered dreams, came to birmingham with the hope the white religious leadership seek justice for cause and with deep moral conviction, which are in the channel that are just grievances could reach the power structures. i hope that each of youct can understand but again i have been disappointed. i heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish therefore shivers to apply with the desegregation decision because is the law. by long her the white ministers
to declare this degree because integration is morally right and because negro is yourid brother. in the midst of blatant injustices, infected upon the negro i have watched white churchmen stand the sidelineou and mouth highest irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. notice of a mighty struggle there internation of racial and economic justice imany ministers say the social issues with which the gospel, no real concern. i watch many other churches commit themselves to other worldly elision which makes a strange and biblical distincti between body and soul. between the sacred and the secular. at a traveler like the breath of alabama, mississippi and all of the other southern states. and sweltering summer days and crisp autumned mornings, i looked in the south beautiful churches with their lofty spires,.
pointing heavenward. i beheld the unprecedented outlines by massive religious education buildings. over and over, i have found myself saying, what kind of people worship here. ... ... the support when bruised and weary negro men and woman came out of dark dungeons to the bright hills to protest. yes, these questions are still on my mind. and deep disappointment i have wept over the laxity of the church. butth be assured my tears have been tears of love. there can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.
yes, ier love the church how could i do otherwise? i am in the rather unique position of being the son the the great grandson of preachers. guess i see the church as a body of christ, but all how we have blemished and scarred scthat body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists. there was a time when the church was very powerful. and a time when the early christians were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. and those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas of popular opinion it was a thermostat that transformed the morays of society whenever the early christians entered a town the people in power became disturbed and the immediately went to the christians for being disturber's of peace and outside agitators but the christians pressed on and they
were a comedy of heaven called to obey god rather than man small in number they were big and commitment. they were to god intoxicated to be astronomically intimidated by their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as and fantasize inorial contests. things a are different now so often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound so often it is an arched defender of the status quo far from being a disturbed by the presence of the church the power structure of the average community is consoled by the churches silent and often even vocal as they are. but the judgment of god is upon the church as never
before. if today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century. every day i meet young people's his disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. perhaps i once again have been too optimistic as organized religiond? to inextricably bound to the status f quo toave our nation and theth world? perhaps i must turn my face to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church as a true hope of the world. but again i am thankful to god that some noble souls with the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joinedav us as active partners in the
struggle f they have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of albany georgia with us and gone down the highways of the south on the torturous rides for freedom. madam president i yield. >> madam president. >> senator from illinois. >> men present i continue with the readings of life in the birmingham jail by doctor martin luther king jr. >> yes they have gone to jail at the some have been dismissed from their churches and lost the support of their bishop and fellow ministers. they have acted in the state that life defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. their witness has been a spiritual assault that has a true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. there is a tunnel of hope the darkll mountain of disappointments. i hope the church as a whole meet theo challenge of this decisive power. but even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, i have no despair
about the future. i have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in birmingham. even if our motives are misunderstood we will which a goal of freedom and birmingham and all over the nation because the goal of america's freedom. abused and scorned that we may be our destiny is tied up with america's destiny. before the pilgrims landed at plymouth we were here. before jefferson at the declaration of independence, those across the pages of history we were here. for more than two centuries our forebears labored in this countrye without wages they made cotton king. they suffered gross injustice and shameful humiliation. and yet out of the bottomless vitality they continue to thrive and develop. if the and expectable cruelties of slavery could not stop us the opposition we now face will surely fail.
we will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of god are embodied in our echoing demands. before closing i feel compelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. you were part of the birmingham police force for keeping order and presenting violence. i doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed non- violent negros. i doubt that you would so quickly commend the policeman if you observe the ugly and inhumanen treatment of negroes here in the city jail. if you are to watch them push and curse old negro women and young negro girls. if you would seeif the slap and o kick on negro men and young boys if you were to observe them as they sit on two occasions refused to give us food because we wanted to sing
our grace together. i cannot join you in the praise of the birmingham police department. it is true the place of exercise a degree of discipline with the demonstrators. but they have can ducted themselves nonviolently in public but for what purpose? to preserve the evil system of segregation of the past few years i have consistently preached that nonviolent use must be as pure as the ends we seek. i have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends but now i must affirm it is just as wrong or perhaps even more so to use immoral means to preserve immoral ends. so they be mr. conrad and his policeman forge nonviolent and public such as chief pritchard and albini georgia. they use nonviolence to maintain the immoral and
racial injustice as t.s. eliot has said, the last can tatian is the greatest reason to do the right deed for the wrong reason. i wish you had commended the negro sitters and protesters for their willingness to suffer under amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. one day the south will recognize its real heroes there will be theames meredith with a noble sense of purpose that m enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs and withse loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. there'll be old oppressed battered women symbolized in montgomery alabama who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not ride segregated buses. and who responded with ungrammatical to those who responded on weariness. my feet is tired but my soul is at rest.
there will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and aost of their elbows courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience of sake.dr one day the south will know that when these disinherited children of god sit down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in american dream and for the most sacre values in the christian heritage. thereby bringing our nation back to the great world of democracy which were beat by the founding fathers of the constitution and declaration of independence. never before have i waited so long i'm afraid it's much too long to take your precious time. i can assure you it would have been much shorter had i been writing from a comfortable desk what else can i do it
loan and narrowed jail cell other than to write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers. if i have said and indicated unreasonable impatience i beg you to forgive me. if i said anything to understate the truth and having a patient set allows me to it settle for anything less than brotherhood i asked god to forgive me. i hope this letter finds you strong in the faith i also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to it meet each of you not as a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away in the deep swath of misunderstanding will be lifted. and in some, not too distant tomorrow the radiancewill shine over the great nation with beauty, yours for
the brotherhood martin luther king jr. i yield the floor. >> mr. president. >> the senator from alabama. >> thank you, mr. president. i want to first thank my colleagues who join today senatortt scott said we hope to do this in april the anniversary of the writing of this letter but unfortunately the pandemic overtook us but asan senator scott said the timing could not be any better than today and just as last year when we this, i am sure each of my colleagues today will leave the floor with an even greater king's legacy. and i hope, a better understanding of where america finds itself today. only think of doctor king, we usually see him on the steps of the lincoln memorial. eloquently and passionately
describing his dream for america. or behind a pulpit in memphis urging his audience to press forward, not to be discouraged in a quest for civil and equal rights. because he had been to the mountaintop, and he had seen the promised land. frankly to somewhat astounding to read his thoughts that were read on the floor today and picture him in a small dirty jail cell, riding in longhand on napkins and scraps of paper and newspaper to a group of ministers that were not hateful as much as they were questioning the need for action at that particular moment in 1963. now would say to share the thoughts on the situation today we need to move beyond the letter beyond the call of action sond long ago. it is certainly true there are
more contemporary voices and writings that explain how we should see our time and what actions are needed today now in the present. now for all although it was uncertain in the spring of 1963 doctor king and the movement would go on to achieve historic changes with the signing of the civil rights act the rights of 1965 in so many other legislative victories. but i believe we are at a similar momentay today. in this time, in this place and that doctor kings words are as contemporary as they are powerful. you see p in 1963 alabama had become a focal point of the racism division and hatred that existed throughout our wnation bombings and fires in
black neighborhoods were commonplace. suspects never apprehended. a governor promising segregation now segregation tomorrow segregation forever. connor shocking the nation when he unleashed vicious police dogs and fire hoses on innocent children engaged in a peaceful protest. and later that year a church bombing that killed four young girls simply because of the color of their skin. the question on the day doctor king was arrested was why now? why risk jail and perhaps death to protest conditions in a city that doctor king had described as the most segregated in america. as city that had just elected a new city government, that had promised change. doctor king and all black americans had heard for too
long and wanted an answer. i believe the wisdom of this letter is perhaps the best frame to view how we move forward duringe, this moment, the movement of this time, the movements of this generation. an passage after passage of doctor king warns us how easily people fall back to accepting status quo how easily people can hear the word weight when in fact the word means never. from an jail cell in birmingham in 1963 that action and that moment was critical so that issues of racism and inequality throughout the land would no longer be ignored. and here we are 57 years later
57 years later and his words are just as timely. that action in this moment, our moment is likewise critical so issues of systemic racism and inequality can finally be erased. while so many seem to be heating doctor king's call for action across the country we see it time and time again hundreds if not thousands of people heating doctor king's call for action today. the greatest fear at this moment quite frankly is that with so many people have either felt powerless are unaffected are willing to march and speak out ready to change the fairness of our laws and society my greatest concern is these good people will get distracted it is easy to be overwhelmed by the
magnitude of the problem. understandable to know, not know where to begin. but it is not enough to simply agree any longer, to simply have a conversation. remember doctor king confesses to the ministers to whom he is responding that he has been gravely disappointed with what he terms in 1963 as the white moderate. if a conversation is all that columns from the moment we are in and are subsided he will have lost the greatest chance of our lifetime to remedy wrongs that have compounded for centuries. it is time for both our institutions and our society to meaningfully reverse the degenerating sense of nobody in us. in this moment, we have a
critical mass of society that can understand the legitimate and unavoidable inpatients of which doctor king spoke. has had the truce of in black and america's being clear to all. we have lots at the pandemic of killing black people of almost two and a half times that not from the mutation of the virus too often deprives care for diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues that are now described as pre-existing conditions. we watch an economic toll is black owned businesses failed at twice the rate of others and unemployment rose faster and will stay higher than those of the rest of america.
of course through the pandemic we've also seen the heroes. caring packages stocking grocery store serving on the front lines in hospitals and first responders. the economic reality of being black in america remains a sin of our nation. there certainly been many black americans have pushed through a system awaited against them to find the american dream. we celebrate those folks but must face the fact that discrimination and institutional racism pushed much too hard through the health education job opportunities and financial securities of those that this government of the knighted states of americaed once counted as only three fifths of a person.
and then all in the course of this pandemic as we seen the truth of the system and society that has been easy to pretend does not really exist our streams have a video of a black man being killed with the knee of a police officer the image of george floyd on the ground, as low as one could possibly physically get in life. what the knee of a police officer, an agent of the states with his knee on his neck keeping him on the ground was far more than an image of the legalities of a violation of george floyd civil rights under law. it was an image of a society and a culture that keeps a knee on the neck of black
americans through systemic racism and discrimination. george floyd's cries and i can't breathe for not just the cries of an innocent man pleading for his life, our fellow americans who are choked by healthcare systems denies them access for affordable quality healthcare who are in doctor kings words smothering in an airtight cage of poverty who cannot breathe the fresh air of affordable housing and economic opportunities or who simply have to hold their own breasts when they or their sons or daughters venture away from their homes fearing a police encounter that will take their life. perhaps, even more than the dogs and fire hoses in birmingham with the state trooper beatings on the bridge
in alabama the video of george floyd's last moments on earth was a confluence of events that gave our nation an image of itself, that it could no longer bear. a truly mr. president a truly fully believe that the soul of america has come to the streets of america looking for a where a joint weight for all people to live in a more just society. that we are at a time when what i have called a crisis trifecta of health, economics and inequality has resulted in a careful examination and introspection of our beliefs and our priorities about race and about poverty. that we have come to understand more than at any time in the history of our country that whatever affects one directly,
indirectly. standing on the floor of the united states senate, i know this moment requires more than introspection on our part. we in this body, and then government as a whole have the power to affect actual change. too not do so would be forever unpardonable. as a person as an individual as a citizen o i know, like others in this country open my heart and my mind so i listen with concern and empathy and act as an individual but i also know as united states senator i am ready to act freely admitting that i might not have the ideal solution or answers but not letting the theoretical perfect be the enemy of tangible change that we must
see. not asking our citizens to wait any longer than they already have. as a body, we have acted before and we should act again. too that end we are seeing proposals for law enforcement performed from the administration from congressional leaders on both sides of the political aisle and in both houses of the united states congress. i am hopeful even optimistic that we can find the common ground necessary to achieve meaningful reform. but we will need to do more for this country. as doctor king reminds us, sometimes a law is just on its face and under just in its application i would add to that is the law seems a hold such promise at one time could be eroded to the point to where it becomes unjust to
that end i would respectfully submit that we should review the voting rights act to make sure that is a reality especially in the midst of a healthcare crisis. we should examine existing laws and practices in education to make sure everyone has equal access to quality education we should examine including employment discrimination printed that extent i should add that with the historic supreme court decision yesterday one in which i applied even though some in this body may not. we should immediately bring the equality act to the floor of the senate and affirm our commitment to ending discrimination in the workplace in any form against
any individual. we should examine again existing laws that continue to deny quality affordable healthcare to poor and low income households including getting states like alabama the incentives necessary to expand medicaid. to get those federal dollars to help lift those individuals who not only struggled before the pandemic but have lost their healthcare during this pandemic. we need to examine laws like the fair housing act signed only a week after doctor king's assassination in order to ensure that act fulfills the promise upon which it was enacted. we spend billions of dollars each year to perpetuate housing that keeps people without means especially black families trapped in places words difficult to assess education, healthy food, and
economic opportunities. unfortunately, all signs are pointing towards a worseningec housing crisis the cause of the pandemic. as a people as a congress we cannot let this moment pass. by that i mean more than passing reforms. surely reforms are needed. but the greater need is not just to reform, but to transform, to make a dramatic change in the nature and character of our institutions and culture towards a more just government and society. too that end as we focus on heating doctor king's call to action written in 1963, we should also remember his words written just three years after thess passage of the civil
rights act and two years after the passage of the voting rights act. it is 1967, where do we go from here? chaos or community. doctor king wrote that america has been sincere and even ardent and welcoming change. but too quickly apathy and disinterest rise to the surface when the next logical steps are to be taken. laws are passed in a crisis mode after birmingham or selma. but nour substantial fervor survives the formal signing of legislation. recording of the law in itself is treated as the reality of reform. the point is simply but significantly to those who have suffered for equality.
and for opportunity keep this moment live. keep it live be on the crisis mood we find ourselves in today. by continuing to engage those who have more recently seen your plight through new eyes. demand that we not just meet this moment with more division of intolerance and anger at one another that pulls us farther apart and deeper into chaos where we have failed to heal. that cannot be america'sar future. demand that it not be as doctor king's letter warns simply a moment for a anotherng conversation. that makes it sound like something is changing but it never does. the path from the first slave ship to land on the shores to the jails in birmingham t alabama were doctor king wrote his letter, we read today to
the death of george floyd and breanna table onto taylor. ao path that is a long one. too long. it is a o path of a multigenerational failure to be the america of our ideals. where the civil war is actually over and we are truly one nation with liberty and justice for all. i will tell you is a son of the south the deep south we should not lose this moment. we in the south have been at the center of this divide for too long. we need to be at the center of healing it in leading the nation to a more just society. since our countries at conception we have said all are created equal. we have pledged we are a nation with a justice for all. all. not some, all.
but we know we have never lived up to that ideal. we all know it. and in response to many of the protests that are taking place across this country today where voices and t-shirts and facemasks proclaim black lives matter. some insist on saying that all lives matter. and of course they do. but we will not be a country where we are alle truly equal and where justice is for all until we can all say the words black lives matter. and mean it. we have to mean it now. all of us must reject the voices of hatred andak intolerance and division. all of us must embrace taking action to root out injustice
and to seek justice and opportunity for all. the road to racial justice in america has taken far too long but it is a path we must walk together if we are to reach the mountaintop. to my colleagues, i say join me and others. to the people of alabama and our nation, i say join together. it is it is time. thank you mr. president i yield the floor. >> mr. president's two senator from texas.
>> today is the second time in the last two years that i have had the opportunity to join the senator from alabama with a bipartisan group of senators to read doctor king's letter from the birmingham jail. on the thank you for your leadership in bringing this group together. i've read that letter many times before. but i never read it out loud. i have never heard the words spoken.he much less heard them spoken in this historic chamber. i think today is a time every american should listen to those words. today is a time every american should look back at the incredible call to justice that doctor king gave us. this is a time where our nation is grieving this is a
time where there is anger division rage, this is a time where our country is divid racial in a way it has not been for a long, long time. and this is a time where we need to hear a call to unity. a call to unity and a call to justice. doctoror kings call was powerful for both. for unity and for justice and h i would like to briefly make three observations about this historic letter. the first is this was a letter from a pastor written to pastors. you know, we refer to doctor king as doctor king, it is
easy to forget he was also reverend king. he was a christian minister who preached the gospel. the very first words of this letter are my dear fellow clergyman. that is to whom this was addressed to the leaders of the church where he had a message of get off your rear end and stand for justice. you are a person of faith. justice, defeating racial discrimination defeating bigotry, is not just a matter of truth. it is a matter of morality. here's what doctor king said about it. this is the opening paragraphs
of the letter. i am in birmingham because injustice is here. and understand how much this was a call to church leaders. he says just as the prophets and bc left their villages and carried their messes just as apostle paul left his village and carried the gospel of jesus christ to the far corners of the roman world. so i am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my hometown. at ar, time when our nation is grieving and anguish and anger is an division doctor king, reverent kings message to church leaders to stand up for justice to stand up for truth that message resonates clear as a bell today. the second observation :
doct and this letter and throughout his ministry throughout his public leadership called over and over and over again to resist violence. against voices of those who agreed with him about the injustice he was calling out where he said violence is not the way. as we have seen rioting in our cities. as we have seen small businesses burned to the ground as we have seen police officers assaulted wounded and murdered, and violent and angry protests and riots and looting the words of doctor king calling out to resist violence and to speak for justice, those words should be heard by all of us. and a third observation and calling for justice doctor
king appealed to our founding principles. there are some, particularly young people who are angry who are being peddled but i think is a bill of goods a lie. but america is a fundamentally unjust that it is an evil society built upon racism. that is simply not true. is there evil in the world? yes. is there racism in the world? yes is there oppression of the world. yes. is all that present in the united states, absolutely. but doctor king in this letter did not endeavor to tear down the foundation of our nation. instead he made an explicit appeal that the promises this nation was founded upon, the promises of freedom the
promises of equality we have not yet fully achieved that, but we can. that is the beauty of this american experiment. we are a nation founded on the proposition that all men are created equal. even though our history has been troubled and up cheating that objective. and so i thank my colleagues both republicans and democrats who came today to. reporter: this letter. se. words. we need to hear this message. we need to stand for justice. and stand for unity. i yield the floor. >> live on wednesday on the
c-span network. the house judiciary committee considers police reform legislation aimed at changes to police training, data collection and law enforcement accountability. that is at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span. on cspan2 at 10:00 a.m. the senate continues work on the national parks and public land funding bill with the final vote expected. also at ten on c-span three the house ways and means committee hears from u.s. trade representative robert lighthizer on trade policy. at 3:00 p.m. easter the senate finance committee hears from ambassador at lighthizer. >> first ladies, influence and image on american history tv examines the private lives and the public roles of the nation's first ladies through interviews with top historians. tonight we look at dolley madison, elizabeth monroe, and alisa adams.
watch first ladies influence an image tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern on america history tv on c-span three. >> senate majority leader mitch mcconnell gave an update on legislative agenda including a possible timeline for considering police reform bill. from capitol hill, this is about 20 minutes. >> good afternoon