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Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

The pressure of racial segregation was reaching a boiling point in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama.After being arrested for his part in the Birmingham Campaign, Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.

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wrote an open letter in response to “A Call for Unity”, written by eight white clergymen from Birmingham. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a true call for unity, as he clearly states and points out facts that the clergymen have omitted from their letter. King is clearly not looking to stoke the fire of segregation; he was merely looking to solve the situation at hand and trying to peacefully end racial segregation in the United States. A Call for Unity”, written in early April 1963 (Jonathan, 12-18). Discussion After years of segregation and inequality, one man stood up and fought for what was right. This man spoke of dreams and for what he felt as morally right, ethically right, lawfully right and emotionally right.

This man spoke of freedom, brotherhood and equality among all people, no matter what race they were. He brought forth facts and emotions to America that was being felt by the black community, which was being treated so badly. This man was Martin Luther King Jr. a clergyman and civil rights leader, who later was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. King opened the eyes of America to a broader sense of understanding, to a wider view of the inequality and hate that almost every black person had to live through at that time. After several peaceful protests King was arrested for demonstrating in defiance of a court order, by participating in a parade, he was then taken to Birmingham jail (Leff & Utley, 8-9). There in the jail, King wrote a letter to 8 fellow clergymen in response to a letter they published in a newspaper.

King explained in the letter why he did the things he did, and why that had to be done the way that they were. King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” was written on April 16, 1963. Eight Alabama clergyman wrote an open letter that questioned King’s methods and suggested that he use the court system as a means for change. King’s letter was a reply that was meant to respond to the clergymen and spread his beliefs (KaaVonia, 10-15). In his letter, he responds to some of his criticisms, such as his demonstrations, direct action, and his timing.

He, then, explains his motives for acting, and why they were justified. Argument about “Justice and injustice” His attitude in the letter changes, at the beginning he is submissive to the clergy’s criticism; at the end he begins to criticize the clergy. This letter was symbolic of a movement, and all the injustices it faced. King uses rhetoric by manipulating language and appealing to the emotions of the reader. In Martin Luther King Jr’s “A Letter from Birmingham Jail” addresses eight white clergymen from Birmingham, Alabama, clearly states eight arguments.

King uses epigrams as a device to make sure the reader still comprehends his message. In the beginning paragraphs, King states what brought him to Birmingham and why he is justified in being there. In his argument he alludes to Apostle Paul, and provides dull factual operational information about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Even if the reader does not know who Paul is or care about the SCLC, he can still understand King’s message because of the epigrams he uses (Baldwin & Burrow, 111-118). In summing up what brought him here King says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

In answering why he is justified in being in Birmingham, King says, “Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in the country” (King, 122-128). Now the reader knows through the use of epigrams that King was brought there because there is injustice in Birmingham and that he has a right to be in Birmingham because he is an American and Birmingham is an American City. Blacks are going through a really tough time during this Negro revolution in 1963 and Dr. King accentuates the point by the use of strong diction, which set the tone of the letter.

For example, Dr. King elucidates the reason his people can’t wait for their rights and that’s because “hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill” his “black brothers and sisters” and that basically most white people torment them any chance they get. In the letter written by the clergyman they say (like it was something new), that they were now facing demonstrations led by outsiders (King). Religious appeals in King’s latter King wants them to know that he is not really an outsider but the president of The Southern Christian Leadership Conference with an affiliation in Birmingham.

He wants to point out that he not only has organizational ties but also was invited to participate in the direct action program in Birmingham in support of desegregation. In the course of the letter, King uses philosophical, religious and historical examples to get his points across. In order to gain control of the reader Martin Luther King Jr. includes vivid images of cruel acts that African Americans in Birmingham endured. Concerning this unsettling time in society King could have described many of the immoral and unjust acts that he encountered on a daily basis.

Instead he portrayed these situations by asking rhetorical questions about women, children and loved ones bringing the hardships Negroes faced into the lives of men of all cultures. It does not matter if you are black, if you are white, if you are Asian, if you are Hispanic, or if you are a mixture of any race, through King’s words you could imagine yourself in any of the situations he describes. With the ability to touch the reader on not only a personal level, but also an intimate one Martin Luther King Jr. began to bridge the gap between the races (Jessica, 222-225). King consistently brought up the point of morality.

Pointing out that certain things are moral and other things aren’t.

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For example King talked about having two different drinking fountains or having blacks sit at the back of the bus, saying that it just wasn’t morally right. And that morally right would be to have unity and brotherhood among all people. King tries to show the difference between just and unjust laws, it is because of these two terms that we can “advocate breaking some laws, and obeying others” (King, 122-128). Segregation in his eyes is and unjust law because it “disturbs the soul and damages the personality” (King, 122-128).

These are both qualifications of an unjust law. Society today is filled with unjust laws. In many schools females are still prohibited from joining a football team, because the school believes they do not have what it takes. By not allowing this person to join the team they are taking away a part of her personality, a piece of who she is and denying her to express it. King also discusses another perspective of just and unjust laws. He explains that an unjust law is made up by a majority of people whom force a minority to follow this law; however the law is not “binding” on themselves.

A just law is one that a majority makes and is also willing to follow themselves. Thus showing that is the only fair law is one that affects all citizens in an equally just way. King states how the Apostle Paul carried the gospel of Jesus Christ over the land, and thus compares himself to him. One way King addresses the eight clergymen and justifies his presence in Birmingham is by comparing himself to the Apostle Paul. He is trying to take the gospel of freedom over the land of America. This idea relates to peoples emotion because most people are religious and believe in God and Jesus Christ.

By Comparing himself to the Apostle Paul strikes deep emotion in most people, and almost saying that he is trying to do the work of God by trying to achieve true freedom, this analogy is a great example of pathos and King’s use of these appeals to the emotion through examples and figurative language (Carson, Holloran, Luker, Russell & King, 10-15). King uses pathos not just from the Bible but also by evolving ideas from World War II: “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal”.

It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws” (King, 122-128). Here King refers to all the horrible laws that Hitler created in Germany before World War II. He cites how, “It was illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.

He is using this example to compare Germany’s laws against Jews to “separate but equal” law of the time against black people (Jessica, 222-225). Creating ethos is a way for a writer to gain the trust of the reader. It can be used to show the effectiveness of one’s writing the writer’s credibility. King illustrates this quality of ethos when he explains his professional titles: “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational, and financial resources with our affiliates” (King, 122-128). Here King shows his credibility by citing what his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which is in every southern state, does (Baldwin & Burrow, 111-118). Furthermore, Martin Luther King explains to the clergymen in the letter that they have been misinformed on the situation and that not all is alright.

King quotes the clergymen’s original letter which commended the Birmingham police for their great efforts in keeping order and preventing violence, King is quick to correct them that they would have not commended the police force if they viewed the gruesome violence which occurred that day firsthand. King concludes the paragraph with. “I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department” (King, 122-128). This statement comes off as a very bold statement to the clergymen after reading the details of the violence previously.

Paragraph fourteen of King’s latter In paragraph fourteen he uses emotional reference when he says “when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim” (King, 122-128), he doesn’t call them Negro, so that the audience could relate to them. He wants them to know how a black man feels always feeling like nobody and being afraid. In the next nine paragraphs he describes in detail the difference between a just law and an unjust law.

This time he uses religious leaders such as St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, Martin Buber and Paul Tillich as examples to get his idea across. He says that “a just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God” (King, 122-128). In paragraph 23, he begins to criticize the white moderates “People who say they agree with segregation but do not want the Negro people to demonstrate because they don t want their lives disrupted” (King, 122-128).

King says that these people are worst than the Ku Klux Klan and other people of ill will, because of their shallow understanding (King & King, 45-48). Lastly, King provides a very good insight for the uninformed in his letter from jail. King states that he wished that the clergymen had actually realized who the real heroes were that day. King had received a letter from a white man from Texas saying that he will reach his equal rights eventually but that maybe he is in too much of a religious hurry.

King states that time are not the cure to all maladies, and that his people must use their time more effectively than the people of ill will. King seems to have a perfect response to all arguments thrown at him, but none appear to be flawed of course. There was no other way for the black community to get their point across because they were not being listened. There is no point in this letter where King incites violence, if anything he completely against it and will stop at nothing to ensure that there is no more violence (Leff & Utley, 8-9). Letter from Birmingham Jail” is one of the most touching pieces of writing. All of Kings Arguments are effective, particularly in paragraph fourteen. This letter at times can be hard to read because King gives real life examples of what it is actually like to be black and living in the 60s south.

This letter sparks a realization, which people have never recognized before reading this, this latter showing the terrible and disgraceful treatment of the black community. Conclusion “A Letter from Birmingham Jail” was an opportunity for Martin Luther King Jr. o express to the public his views and the views of other African Americans throughout the South. The effects of King’s experiences depicted by his use of language resulted in radical changes for African Americans throughout the nation. It was a bigger victory to sway the Alabama clergymen than to change the mind of a stubborn group of white males, because it proved that the typical southern white male is equal in every way shape and form to that of an African American. Martin Luther King Jr. Once said, “I have a dream” and dream he did.

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