“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with netlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Having attended Loyola, I have been incredibly familiar with the Jesuit ideals to the point where, before these readings, I had become desensitized to what they actually meant. However, when you read an activist’s words that are so eloquent, just, and filled with passion, you can’t help but be enthralled and rejuvenated.
King’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail Cell gave the Jesuit principles new life as I read Kolvenbach’s words on the service of faith and promotion of justice. The laws that allowed segregation and other horrible things to happen in Birmingham during this time period show just the kind of unjust and close-mindedness King had to face in order to receive civil rights for African Americans. There is an even stronger foundation when King uses Saint Thomas Aquinas’s words in his argument: “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.” Following this Jesuit’s words, I wholeheartedly believe that Dr. King would approve of the Jesuit way of life because he is an embodiment of the service of faith and the promotion of justice. Kolvenbach and King’s ideas on justice morph together when you read Kolvenbach’s words: “This composition of our time and place embraces six billion people… some white and many brown and yellow and black. Each one a unique individual, they all aspire to live life, to use their talents, to support their families and care for their children and elders, to enjoy peace and security, and to make tomorrow better.” This is exactly what King is fighting for from his jail cell.
One of Dr. King’s other main issues in his letter is the solidarity that is lacking with the “white man” and the church in regards to desegregation. As spiritual men and “brothers,” King is disappointed in the silence and blind eye that these people turn on the desegregation movement when there is nothing standing in their way. Kolvenbach’s words ring true here: "We can no longer pretend that the inequalities and injustices of our world must be borne as part of the inevitable order of things. It is now quite apparent that they are the result of what man himself, man in his selfishness, has done…" The Jesuits live upon the belief that the constant improvement of the “whole person” is defined through solidarity, equality. This lack of it in Birmingham leads to the injustice of segregation but also to the souls of those that fight against it. King wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Justice and solidarity go hand in hand, as do these readings and the men that wrote them.
Dr. King’s language and arguments convey a peaceful, intellectual, and respectful man simply doing what he can to promote solidarity, justice, and improvement of life for African-Americans. Kolvenbach’s words, emotion, and lifestyle provide the foundation for his letter. From that thinking, I tend to deduce that King sounds like a Jesuit himself.