Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidencedsublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws ofNebuchadnezzar, onthe ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the earlyChristians, whowere willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather thansubmit tocertain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality todaybecauseSocrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party representeda massiveact of civil disobedience.
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I havebeenarrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in havinganordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust whenit is usedto maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peacefulassembly andprotest.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for thepurpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become thedangerouslystructured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the whitemoderate wouldunderstand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transitionfrom anobnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to asubstantiveand positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of humanpersonality. Actually,we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bringto thesurface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where itcan be seen anddealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must beopened with allits ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, withall the tension itsexposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion beforeit can becured.