The White Moderate: The Greatest Threat to Freedom

Every year, on Martin Luther King Day, I’m reminded of these words, from King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

Update (January 21, 8:15 am)

This is also another passage it’s useful to remember:

I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.


  1. Halima Brewer January 21, 2013 at 6:51 am | #

    Could be said about the Palestinians as well.

    • BillR January 21, 2013 at 9:32 am | #

      “…[T]he singular Myth of Liberal Zionism is Liberal Zionism itself.”

      • Halima Brewer January 22, 2013 at 6:51 am | #


  2. Earnest Harris January 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm | #

    Well said.

    • Carolyn Winder January 24, 2013 at 1:09 am | #

      Could well apply to all ‘minorities’ including women fighting in the trenches with the paternalist male ‘moderate’.

Leave a Reply