Letter from a Birmingham Jail

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says that time is neutral, and humanity moves forward not because of benevolent historical forces but because some individuals have worked to radically change their environments within their lifetimes. In effect, he is saying that mankind is revolutionary, not evolutionary. One can expand this thesis to repudiate Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism, which teaches that human relations are based on the principle of the “survival of the fittest.” Social Darwinists hold that white Anglo-Saxon Protestants dominate society because they are genetically superior to other races and will eventually achieve victory over all other people.

According to King’s theory, WASPs hold power and privilege not because of genetic superiority but because they have taken positive action to get it and to exclude other people from sharing their wealth. Blacks have inferior social status only because of their restrictive social environment and their previous unwillingness to revolt against the power structure and demand change. Whites’ current power is no justification for their continued power because such relations are fluid and dependent on the actions of specific individuals. Distinctions in the genetic makeup of men are minimal compared to distinctions in their actions. It is the man who works, not the man who waits, who achieves happiness.

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