Having re-read and analyzed and pondered Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” over the past few years, I have admired it for one thing as a leading example of literary polemic, but of course it is more than just good writing with some memorable quotes highlighted every year around the MLK memorial weekend.  It is primarily a call of conscience to us white people who see ourselves as good people with the best of intentions.  Having reached my 65th birthday this weekend and recently celebrated with my wife our 40th wedding anniversary, we can perceive time to be fleeting — talks I have with college friends still in touch can be about the most minute details of misadventures we had together 45 years ago — or just really a long, long time ago when we each a full head of hair down to our shirt collars and nice brown or reddish-brown beards!
A word count of the Birmingham letter turns up the word “time” 27 times, and here is what Dr. King, who certainly suspected that his personal ministry in this world would not be long, has to say most pointedly about time and the white moderate:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is …. 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.”
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 I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry….” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will…. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
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Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?