Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963)

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Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963)

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a letter written by Martin Luther King from a Birmingham jail in Alabama. He had been locked up for planning and organizing a peaceful protest against racial discrimination by Birmingham’s city government and downtown small traders. Martin Luther King was writing to respond to some Alabama clergymen who had a perspective that social prejudices, wrongs and racial segregation should be taken to the courts rather than be taken to the streets. Luther employs his knowledge and experience to express the problems of the Black people. He uses logos, ethos and pathos to build trust in readers and impact their actions. He says, “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’ and one has a duty moral to violate unjust laws” (King Jr., 1968).

Martin Luther King systematically uses logos when writing his letter and he states some reasons for his arguments. For instance, he introduces the letter by explaining the reason he thinks the assertions by the white clergymen are wrong. Luther says that black people can only use direct action as the only option to demand their rights. He supports his argument by stating countries whose forefathers never used good-faith peacemaking methods as they fought for their rights and freedoms. He strains on the use of direct action and cites early black leaders who could talk about matters that affected black people after having used direct force. He says that though black activists could end their protests, racial discrimination continued and black people still suffered. This gives a perfect instance where Luther considers logos in his work.

Luther appeals to logos when he says that “ I have nearly reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s biggest stumbling block in his step toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klan, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” (King Jr., 1968). He quotes about an elderly black lady whose soul is at rest but her feet are tired. The lady though not learned knows that inequity and discrimination in the society have led to her suffering. This shows that very excellent to understand racial segregation in the community.

Martin Luther King also uses ethos to talk to his readers in his letter. For example, in the first argument, he tries to dispute the views put forward together with the declarations made by the white clergymen. In the next paragraph, Luther perceives his sincerity when he counters the view brought forward by the white clergymen. What helps to create and ascertain his integrity is the fact that he is the leader of the Sothern Christian Leadership conference.

Luther also applies the use of pathos when writing his letter and this helps in establishing emotions in the letter. There are some instances in the letter that bring out emotional appeal. For example, pathos is evident in the last part of the letter. The police are congratulated for maintaining law and order and preventing violence.

Despite the letter having been written in 1963, it is still relevant up to date. People are always being criticized for protesting at the wrong place or at the wrong time. The black community is still struggling to fight against racism, segregation and prejudice. Every year different African Americans are murdered brutally by the authorities unlawfully. Children are orphaned at a very young age and the black society is viewed as evil and outcast by the other communities. Injustice happenings always affect everyone in the community. We still need people like King Luther who can address human values like justice, fairness and reconciliation in a thoughtful and dignified way.

Fighting against unjust laws in the current society is essential. Justice is divine and should not conflict with the morals of its people. There is no justice in a bill that is morally sinful and do not correspond to the law of God. King is a leader who is committed to helping his people and he is not afraid to go to jail because of disobeying unjust laws. This action is very patriotic.

Like King Luther, it is essential to be passionate about equality and how all people should be treated equally under civil law. It feels so bad when Luther describes how difficult it is to tell his daughter that she cannot go to an amusement park because she is an African American.

People should come together in the world and fight against racial discrimination and unjust laws. People who encourage racial segregation and go against the law should face the consequences. This will help reduce cases of innocent people being murdered and protests happening every time and then. Equality among people is fundamental and should be embraced at all time.




Work Cited

King Jr, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963).” Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s: A Brief History with Documents (1963).

Leff, Michael C., and Ebony A. Utley. “Instrumental and Constitutive Rhetoric in Martin Luther King Jr.’s” Letter from Birmingham Jail”.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.1 (2004): 37-51.

Snow, Malinda. “Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham jail” as Pauline epistle.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 71.3 (1985): 318-334.

Patton, John H. “A Transforming Response: Martin Luther King Jr.’s” Letter from Birmingham Jail”.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.1 (2004): 53-65.