Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” | Online Homework Help

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Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
As a civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led various peaceful and non-violent protests in an effort to fight racial discrimination. During one of his protests, Luther was arrested and confined in Birmingham jail from where he wrote A letter from Birmingham Jail as a response to a published statement written by clergymen to caution him and his followers against further protests, and to commend the police for their ‘good’ job in containing the civil unrest created by his activisms. In the letter, Luther uses strong rhetorical appeals to convince the clergymen of the right to his actions, or rather to justify why the minorities were entitled to equal treatment from the society. In an effort to change the opinion of the clergymen and the public in general, Luther used three strong rhetorical appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos. The following discussion analyses the rhetorical appeals used in the Letter from Birmingham Jail and their effectiveness in convincing the audience to adopt or support the author’s disposition in regard to equality.
One of the strongest and most prevalent rhetorical appeals employed by Luther in his letter is logos. By definition, logos is the use of logical arguments and evidence to support one’s opinion. In his letter, Luther uses facts the audience could relate to and examples to back his arguments. For example, towards the start of the letter, Luther explains the reasons behind his travelling to Birmingham to protest and consequently end up in jail. He states that
“…Just as the eight–century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, [he] too [was] compelled to carry the gospel of the freedom beyond [his] particular hometown.” (King 1)
With a touch of humor, Luther compares his decision to visit Birmingham and organize civil protests with the evangelistic journey by biblical apostles to preach the word of God- “…their ‘thus saith the lord’…” (King 1). Evidently, Luther is conscious of his audience and hence his use of biblical examples. By appealing to their religious beliefs and knowledge of biblical characters, Luther effectively persuades his audience to understand why he visited Birmingham in the first place. Still in the second paragraph of the letter, it explicitly states: “…here because I was invited, am here because I have organizational ties…” (King 1). Here, Luther confidently and authoritatively justifies the reason as to why he visited Birmingham as well as his right to be there.
In yet another instance, Luther explains why he preferred demonstrations and street marches as opposed to negotiation, which he concurs offers a better approach to finding a solution. Whilst recognizing the power of negotiation, he explains that it was impossible to negotiate, given that authorities had chosen to ignore the issue as a whole (Newell 129). He argues that his actions seek “…to create a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate [would be] forced to confront [the] issue” (King 1). By bringing to the attention of the audience that the authorities had shunned the issue instead of negotiating, he is trying to convince them that his adopted method, non-violent protests, presented the next viable approach to the problem.
Another rhetorical appeal used by the author in convincing his audience is ethos. Ethos in this regard refers to the credibility of the author and whether the audience can trust him or her. One of the main characteristic of Luther’s audience is that they regard him and his supporters as societal outsiders out to create disharmony and chaos. In their mindset, Luther poses a threat to the peaceful continuation of the society, which they find inconsistent with their definition of equity. To this, Luther challenges their belief by asserting that he is the “…president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference” (King 2), and hence one of their members given that they had operations in every Southern State. By showing that he is a religious leader, Luther demonstrates to his audience that he has the authority to challenge their common belief. He goes further to tell his audience that they share resources and staff, thus creating a reliable reason for justifying his actions not to mention a challenge to the audience in regard to supporting his course (Parnell para 3). In aIDition, Luther challenges the audience in regard to their belief in his willingness to break the laws. He contends that it was a legitimate concern and states “…we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools” (King 2). He goes further to challenge them on the circumstances under which one would obey some laws and break others. He argues that “…one may well ask…how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust…” (King 2). He not only told them that he supports just laws, but also explicitly justifies his reason for disobeying ‘unjust’ laws, like it is the right of every other citizen. He goes further to quote St. Augustine in his disregard for unjust law.
Finally, Luther uses pathos, an emotional appeal to convince and get the attention of his audience. In the start of his letter, he re-states his tendency to ignore criticism but argues that since the clergymen were “…men of genuine good and [their] criticisms are sincerely set forth, [he] would like to answer [their] statement in what [he] hope will be patient and reasonable terms” (King 2). Besides capturing the attention of his audience, this opening statement act to compliment and recognize the audience, making them feel important. The statement also sets a friendly environment through which he could comfortably relay his thoughts and feelings. Instead of seeing the author as an outsider, because of that statement, the audience can see him as a friend, thus making them more open to the content of the letter (Parnell para 4).
In conclusion, throughout the letter, Luther has successfully avoided generalizations and bandwagon appeals. Luther successfully uses three rhetoric appeals to convince the audience of his course and to justify his actions. By using logos, he was able to instill logic into the mindset of the audience. Further, Luther used ethos to show some authority and build his credibility in regard to the information contained in the letter. Finally, the author used pathos, emotional appeal, to capture the feelings of the audience and to instill some sense in them in regard to offering support to the oppressive system, which ran the society. By using these three rhetoric appeals, Luther’s arguments are effective and powerful in regard to convincing the audience and to reaffirm his right as a member of the society rather than an outsider.

Works Cited
King, Martin Luther. Letter from Birmingham jail. The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 212: 78-88, August, 1963. Web. 17 October 2013.

Newell, Terry. Statesmanship, Character, and Leadership in America. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.

Parnell, Jonathan. (2012). Martin Luther King’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail”, 2012. Web. October 16, 2013.

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