A letter from Birmingham Jail

A letter from Birmingham Jail, was written by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, while serving an eighty-day jail sentence in Birmingham. It was during this time when African Americans were actively against racial equality. King’s language defines this time and racial identity by words such as “negro.” His letter was condemnatory and a persuasive piece that aimed to convince every reader, especially, the clergymen that his course was justified. This paper is a summary of the King’s letter through analysis of its rhetorical devices such as Logos, Ethos and Pathos as condemnatory and persuasive tools.

Why direct action? King uses logos as a counterargument tool against the clergyman. He starts by supporting the fact that the people “had no alternative except to prepare for direct action.” He coins several logical fallacies, religious and historical evidences to justify this. He logically appeals to authorities when he refers to Thomas Jefferson, a person highly respected and says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” He also refers to Mr. Boutwell to see the state of the nation. While the clergyman believes Martin is crossing the path of justice course, he asserts that “but more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” Martin justifies their action by stating that the Negro’s wait for their own rights is long overdue he says, “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights.”

Martin also applies knowledge, reasons and moral concepts in its letter. He applies the pathos in various practical examples. He proves that the “Negro” has waited enough knowing that the clergyman will claim that they impatience. The writer’s letter is directed to all American, black or white, he believes the situation of the blacks affects the white counterparts equally. He says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” With a lot of empathy, Martin asserts that many people have lost hope in the government. He develops a deep emotional appeal when he states, “our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us.” He figuratively develops a story on how it is difficult to explain to colored children why they cannot go to amusement parks.

Are King’s Actions Justified? The writer applies different ethos in his appeal. He is keen to inform the authorities to understand the difference between the legal and illegal actions. Based on the situation at the times, Martin describes what is legal and illegal with contrasting valid examples. He says, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal,” this point is well elaborated for any ready to understand. He is reasonable to state that the use of active action is mandatory. He also identifies his actions with philosophers such as Socrates to justify his course of action and to help those in authorities come up with good decision.