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My feets is tired, but my soul is rested

Mother Pollard

Mother Pollard was one of the participants in the 1955–1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin
Luther King Jr. recounted that after several weeks of walking to her destinations rather than take
the bus, Mother Pollard was asked if she was tired, to which she replied, "My feets is tired, but my
soul is rested." She was 72 years old. This quote is significant to me because it is the opposite of
conformity, where one is comfortable but the soul is restless.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written by Dr. King when he was 34 years old in 1963. He was
imprisoned for coordinating marches and sit-ins in Birmingham, Alabama, a means of non-violent
resistance as a call for civil rights.

While King sat in his jail cell an ally smuggled in a newspaper, which contained a public statement
by eight white clergymen condemning Dr. King’s work and his activist fight against racism. Dr. King
began his famous letter in the margins of the paper, with a borrowed pencil, and continued writing
on other scraps of paper until he had completed the letter.

Although being black in the USA remains a risk factor in the twenty-first century, a black person has
a significant probability of being shot in a routine traffic stop, the civil rights movement led by King
was successful in abolishing blatant segregation and it is a good model of social activism.

There are many instances of injustice and social disfunction, like Palestine and environmental
degradation, that can benefit from social activism a la King.

Social unrest is a ferocious monster that sometimes is unleashed by external forces for nefarious
purposes, the case of Syria comes to mind. The Birmingham clerics that wrote the appeal to the
black community of Birmingham to withdraw support from the civil rights movement are the bad
guys in this picture. But it must be acknowledged that street disturbances are more acceptable in
faraway places than in one’s own backyard. The main problem today is not overt racism and such,
but the subtle disdain of those King calls “white moderates.”

King´s recommendation for nonviolent activism is his four steps:

1. Collection of the facts to determine whether injustice is alive


2. Negotiation

3. Self-purification

4. Direct action

In today’s world the first two steps are problematic, particularly in the USA, where liberals
and conservatives are now so polarized and see the world differently. Republicans and
Democrats in America are living in different information environments. 60 percent of
Republicans name Fox News as a source they trust to be reliable. After that, numbers
plummeted. CNN and local news were tied at 4 percent each, and all others at 3 percent or
less, The New York Times got 0 percent.
Democrats, by contrast, were spread out over multiple different sources. CNN was most
trusted, at 21 percent. NPR was next, with 15 percent. From there the numbers flattened out
quickly, showing 3-7 percent for a range of others, including the BBC (5 percent), New
York Times (5 percent) and PBS News (4 percent).

Also, because formally the USA is an integrated and egalitarian country, it is not clear what
to negotiate, or with whom.

Self-purification and direct action remain relevant, although difficult to concretize,


concepts. We must first conquer ourselves, overcome our biases and moral limitations, do
no harm, help whenever we can. This must be taken like AA suggests, one day at a time.
This does not mean that one must look at Reality as unconnected isolated events that must
be handled as they arise. We must be proactive in looking for and addressing the root-
causes, and at the same time, work every day in seeing clearly and acting right.

What are some current topics that you care about that relate to this letter?

Palestine, environment degradation,

What part of his letter was particularly enlightening to you? Why?

The quote My feet is tired, but my soul is rested because it is the opposite of complacency, where
one is rested and comfortable, but the soul is restless. Also when Kings says the history or progress
is not foregone, but the result of the struggle of individuals.

Why do you think it is important that you and your peers revisit this letter today?

Although being black in the USA is still a risk factor, the civil rights movement led by King was
successful and a model of social activism

Why do you think the clergymen made this letter public?

It was an appeal to the black community of Birmingham to withdraw support from the civil rights
movement
+ What effect does calling someone an outsider have?

+ Do you see any connection between what you read here with things that you care about in
today’s world? If so, what are those connections?

+ What leadership technique does Dr. King use in his opening?

+ Do you agree that there’s no such thing as an outsider?

+ How does Dr. King’s campaign approach compare with approaches you’ve participated in or seen
in the news recently?

+ What does Dr. King say about the role of nonviolent direct action?

+ How does Dr. King feel this tension? How does he use it?

(Hint: pg. 261 lines 20 – 21)

+ What does Dr. King say to those who say “wait?” What role does time play?

+ Can you think of other examples (current or local) where time is a tool for those in power?

+ What is your view on Dr. King’s statement about just and unjust laws?

+ Dr. King states that ‘no law can be considered democratically structured when a minority has no
part in enacting or creating the law’ – can you think of any incidents in today’s world where this
also holds true? What is the problem in that situation? What do you think is the right thing to do if
you were to change the situation?

+ Who are “white moderates”? What are the characteristics of this group?

+ Do we ever play the role of “white moderates”? (no matter your race or nationality)

+ What role do “white moderates” play in today’s conflicts? (Can you think of any relevant
examples from your local context?)

+ Recall what Dr. King says about extremists. Who are the “extremists” today? Who decides?

+ Do you think an extremist for love can use violence?

+ What emotions does he elicit in this section? (Hint: Shame, betrayal, love, hope)

+ Why is this important? What is the impact of these emotions?

+ If you strive for a moral end are the means to get to that end relevant?

+ Can you think of examples in your own life where there is tension between the means and the
ends?

+ Seeing how Dr. King ends the letter, what is on your mind now? What, as a reader of his letter,
could/should you do going forward?

+ What was your favorite quote?


+ If you were to tell your friend about this experience tomorrow, what would you tell them?