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Letter from a Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis

By:   •  October 26, 2014  •  Essay  •  771 Words (4 Pages)  •  4,640 Views

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King Letter Analysis

In response to a public statement made by eight Alabama clergymen, Martin Luther King Jr's, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" defends the tactics of nonviolent resistance to racism, injustice, and irrationality. King supports his argument by exercising his credibility and applying balanced reasoning to refute the perspectives of the concerned community leaders and appeal to white moderates through an emotional and spiritual style.

King begins his letter by disarming the Clergymen's "outsider" accusation. He explains his position as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a direct affiliate to the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to validate his . He explains that because of his position, he was invited to "engage in a nonviolent direct-action program"(173;par 2), proving that he is not an outsider because he has "organizational ties [in Birmingham]"(173;par 2). To further justify his actions, King connects himself to Apostle Paul and other prophets who "carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of"(173;par 3) just as he must "carry the gospel of freedom beyond [his] home town"(173;par 3), providing him with a biblical and moral responsibility to take direct action. He continues to explicate his actions by incorporating the "network of mutuality" that is instilled in Americans to conclude that "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly"(173;par 4), authorizing his obligation to fight injustice no matter the location and nullifying the "outside agitator" implications.

Continuing his argument, King contends with the clergymen's opposition to the "demonstrations taking place in Birmingham"(173; par 5), exposing the "superficial kind of social analysis"(173;par 5) adopted by the Clergymen that targets "effects" rather than the "underlying causes". He notes that the steps taken to campaign nonviolently have only resulted from the "ugly record of brutality" and "unjust treatment"(174;par 6) against the Negroes, exposing the baneful contentment of the Clergymen. King also uncovers racial injustice by noting the "unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham"(174;par 6), authenticating his call for direct action and drawing sympathy from the white moderate. King further credits his disappointment in the Birmingham community leaders when explaining that the Negro community are "victims of a broken promise"(174;par 7) after humiliating racial signs were guaranteed by the ACMHR to be removed, but failed to enforce it, resulting in the preparation for a direct action program and not negotiation.

King then counters the "untimely" and "unwise" declaration from the Clergymen's, "A Call for Unity". He alludes to Socrates's "Allegory of the Cave" while declaring that the Clergymen fear constructive, nonviolent tension, "tension in the mind"(175;par 10) is necessary for the end of prejudice and social injustice in return for "understanding and brotherhood"(175;par 10). Enlightening the religious leaders of his cause for applying direct action rather than waiting for an


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