Music Monday: Birmingham Jail by Chatham County Line

On September 15, 1963, four Ku Klux Klan members planted dynamite under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  Martin Luther King, Jr. called it “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.”  The first prosecution didn’t occur until the next decade.  The next two until the next century.  One of the men was never prosecuted.  None received the punishment they deserved, but a more fitting punishment, perhaps, is that their diabolical act helped galvanize the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I saw Chatham County Line in concert years ago up in the hills in, as it happens, an old church converted into a concert space.

I will leave you with one of my favorite MLK quotes, from Letter From a Birmingham Jail and drawing from the traditions of both Catholic Social Thought and Immanuel Kant:

[T]here are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an ‘I it’ relationship for an ‘I thou’ relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.

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