The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Minority interrelatedness

 Minority interrelatedness
Minority interrelatedness

Minority interrelatedness

On April 16, 1963, Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. penned the now famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Dr. King, who had gone to Birmingham to organize a series of sit-ins and demonstrations, was arrested and placed in solitary confinement on April 12 for defying a court injunction ordering an end to the protests.

During his confinement, Dr. King authored his letter as a response to a published statement by eight white Alabama clergymen questioning Dr. King’s interference in race relations in their city.

The clergy who co-signed the letter included two Catholic bishops, two Methodist bishops, and an Episcopal bishop, the Moderator of the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Alabama, a rabbi and the pastor of Birmingham’s First Baptist Church.

While the tone of the clergy’s statement was polite and positive in its desire for “a constructive and realistic approach to racial problems,” it criticized the demonstrations as “unwise and untimely.”

In his response, Dr. King defended his presence in Birmingham and explained in depth — almost 7000 words — his mission to bring about equality through civil disobedience and nonviolence.

In the letter’s fourth paragraph, Dr. King, introduced the notion of “interrelatedness,” and authored what has arguably become his most oft quoted line:

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

To say that the letter is a masterpiece of American prose would not be an overstatement. Transcendent in its message, it has become a universal treatise on human rights, defining the interrelatedness of “the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed” everywhere.

February is Black Heritage Month. It is appropriate that the successful election in Iraq come on the eve of a month that celebrates the struggle for liberty of America’s most repressed minority.

It is equally appropriate that we acknowledge that people within our own borders are still struggling for inclusion in the American Dream, among them gays and lesbians.

Many Black leaders — though not all — reject and are even offended by the mere suggestion of the interrelatedness of the African-American and gay civil rights movements. The truth — regrettable or not — is it’s the only comparison that fits.

One of the most significant African-Americans today to support the gay rights movement is Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain Civil Rights leader and founder of the King Center.

While Dr. King never spoke directly to the issue of gay rights, his refusal—at the behest of some leaders — to expel Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man, from his inner circle spoke for itself.

Other prominent African-Americans who support gay rights include the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Dr. Cornell West, professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton University.

In a documentary entitled “All Gods Children,” which confronts the distortions about LGB people that the religious right has directed to African American churches, Dr. West challenges the commonly held notion that Civil Rights and gay rights are not interrelated:

“If I have one word for fellow Christians, I would ask them to keep their eyes on the love of Jesus and to not confuse the blood at Calvary with the Kool-Aid of homophobia in America.”

He adds, “By being open enough to everybody, it means that we have to call into question our own particular prejudices that we inherit that have nothing to do with the loving gospel of Jesus.”

Recently, a jury in Louisville, Kentucky found a man guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter for luring a gay man to a hotel room where he beat and strangled him to death before stuffing him in a suitcase and dumping him into a river.

Less than 40 years ago, it would have been next to impossible for a white man to be convicted of killing a black man. The fact that two of James Byrd Jr.’s murderers were convicted of murder with a special circumstance, i.e. a hate crime, suggests how far we have come in our journey toward the Jeffersonian ideal that “all men are created equal.”

According to a 2000 Salon magazine story, then-Governor George W. Bush contacted the family of James Byrd. Jr. and asked it to agree to drop sexual orientation from the new tougher hate crime bill named in honor of Mr. Byrd.

Their unwillingness to compromise proves a fortiori that gay rights are an irradicable and interrelated part of the larger Civil Rights movement.

The fact that the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act was allowed to die — many say because of the lack of leadership of then-Gov. Bush — because it included sexual orientation in the list of prosecutable offenses suggest that Jefferson’s vision has yet to be fully realized.

In New Hampshire last week, a lawmaker introduced a law to overturn the state’s hate-crime legislation that imposes stiffer penalties on those convicted of a hate crime on the basis of religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, national origin, or sex, calling the law “unnecessary.”

Indeed, not everyone understands yet the idea of interrelatedness.

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