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"A Letter from Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King Jr

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1125 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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“A Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. was written in the margins of a letter posted by the clergymen of Alabama at this time that sparked his interest and while he inhabited the jail cell for parading around without a permit. This time allowed him the ability to respond wholeheartedly to this cynical oppressing. King’s letter addresses specific points presented in the Clergymen’s and this direct response distinguishes King’s strong points through his powerful writing. Unethical and immoral mentions came to the attention of the Minister through the letter, and he expressed his differing views and defended his ideals and actions through Aristotle’s three rhetorical devices, ethos, logos, and pathos.

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First and foremost, King establishes his credibility to spark off his strong defense. Introducing himself as “The President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. , [with] eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights” (“Letter from Birmingham Jail” 2). This credential not only puts King into a position of power but also proves that he has seen enough of the south and the problems within it to create a strong argument against his opposition. Another point that establishes this is on page seven of “Letter From Birmingham Jail” where King states that he’s traveled through the “length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi, and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings”. This quote defends his credibility further because not only did King travel once through these states but multiple times in different seasons, and even deeper- in different trials that may have been presented. Moreover, throughout the letter, King references the Bible, presidents, and writers to establish not only his educated mind, but also his passion for righteousness and his stance as a minister. The flawless flow of his passionate response to the Clergymen also presents support for his intellect and knowledge due to keeping a reasonable head and developed grammar while inhabiting a jail cell.

Many of the King’s rhetoric used that convinced his credibility to the audience also demonstrated the logic in his counterargument. In a simple paragraph, he effectively proves his point that extremism for a proper cause isn’t something to discredit and should not be looked upon as a negative thing, “Was not Jesus an extremist for Love,Was not Amos and Extremist of justice, was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel, and Abraham Lincoln,and Thomas Jefferson,The Question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be” (“A Letter from Birmingham Jail” 6). After thoroughly tying in many influential figures in history, King then goes on to question the argument of the Clergymen stating that the demonstrations are at fault in Birmingham and not the social situation already simmering. “Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which,not a single Negro is registered” (“Letter from Birmingham Jail” 4) This direct attack on the truth of Alabama in this time brings a harsher light to what happens and what is overlooked to many. King then continues to state that it was his “parading without a permit” (4), that landed him in the jail and while it is completely fine to have such an “ordinance,it becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest” (“Letter from Birmingham Jail” 4). This direct reference to the constitution of the United States and just and unjust laws and ordinances proves a strong point for King’s Rebuttal, which helps to defend the equal rights movement even further.

Throughout the passage, after King addresses his credentials and furthers I through his knowledgeable and strong rebuttals of logic, his argument plays further into the conscious of his audience through well put references and emotional instances. One powerful example of King’s pull on the reader’s consciousness in his letter is on page three when he refutes the argument of the Clergymen saying that Colored people should just “wait”. While many words truly stand out, King’s true effect was mastered by the appeal to the parents in the group, “When you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why white people treat colored people so mean”” (“Letter from Birmingham Jail” 3)? Then again, “humiliation day in and day out by nagging signs” (“Letter from Birmingham Jail 3) and even further, when “you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”” (“Letter from Birmingham Jail 3). Another element that helps support King’s point in his letter is the fervent repetition of his blatant disappointment in more than simply the clergymen, but their Christian faith and the churches in service within Alabama during this time. King repeats how disappointed he was in the “common whites” also and their bystander reactions to racial issues. The fact that this man, a minister, “beneath” the said extremist white clergymen, and inhabiting a jail cell during that time, who was disappointed in people showed a true depth which hit the audience profoundly. (King)

These three elements to Martin Luther King’s letter aid it to be the most effective argument against the Clergymen’s rash and irrational spark of a letter. Because he sought to the demands and claims so logically, and rebutted with passion and clarity, King’s message was put across and he demonstrated what he needed to put his point across and defend his actions and ideals. The strength of this letter allowed a clear voice to hopefully change mindsets and common misconceptions within Birmingham, Alabama and did not allow the irregularities of the Clergymen to cloud minds with incorrect thoughts.

Works Cited:

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Norton Anthology of African American

Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 1997. 1854-66.


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