Boston Tea Party, Christianity, civil rights, conscience, Freedom, justice, Karl Barth, Law, liberty, March on Washington, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr., racism, Socrates
Mr. Wicker: How are we to enforce law when a doctrine is preached that one man’s conscience may tell him that the law is unjust, when other men’s consciences don’t tell them that?
Dr. King: I think you enforce it, and I think you deal with it by not allowing anarchy to develop. I do not believe in defying the law, as many of the segregationists do, I do not believe in evading the law as many of the segregationists do. The fact is that most of the segregationists and racists that I see are not willing to suffer enough for their beliefs in segregation, and they are not willing to go to jail. I think the chief norm for guiding the situation is the willingness to accept the penalty, and I don’t think any society can call an individual irresponsible who breaks a law and willingly accepts the penalty if conscience tells him that that law is unjust.
I think that this is a long tradition in our society, it is a long tradition in Biblical history; Meshach and Abednego broke an unjust law and they did it because they had to be true to a higher moral law. The early Christians practiced civil disobedience in a superb manner. Academic freedom would not be a reality today if it had not been for Socrates and if it had not been for Socrates’ willingness to practice civil disobedience. And I would say that in our own history there is nothing that expresses massive civil disobedience any more than the Boston Tea Party, and yet we give this to our young people and our students as a part of the great tradition of our nation. So I think we are in good company when we break unjust laws, and I think those who are willing to do it and accept the penalty are those who are part of the saving of the nation.
From Martin Luther King, Jr. on NBC’s Meet the Press. The interview took place on March 28th, 1965, a week after King led the five-day March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. You’ll find extended reflections on this in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr..
It’s astounding how patronizing the questioners are to King throughout this half hour segment. The entire interview is worth watching, but the quoted portion is copied below.
We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ (people always forget the ‘Jobs’ part), so expect to find King’s name coming up not only on this site but throughout the media.
Below: Dr. King and Karl Barth outside the Princeton University chapel. On Sunday, April 29th, 1962, King preached the morning service and Barth taught the evening theology class. Not a bad day’s line-up.