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King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

Free History Essays

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Nowadays, we enjoy the chance to live in a world where all of us have equal rights guaranteed by different laws. Actually, we get used to this, and when someone tries to infringe on our rights, we react at once. Moreover, this reaction is not always polite and restrained; in most cases, it bears a violent and aggressive character. Though all of us are equal before God, not always people, especially Blacks, had the opportunity to feel that equality. A vivid example of this is the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s (Civil Rights Movement). Blacks were tired of being constantly abused, and they found a way to show their resentment. Namely, that way out was non-violent demonstrations the main aim of which was to get through to the society and evoke some reaction. The result of one of such demonstrations was the imprisonment of Martin Luther King a preacher who actively fought for the rights of Blacks.

Being alone in the jail, he just needed to express his feelings and emotions somehow, because the letter A Call for Unity which the clergy had published in response to demonstrations organized by Black, made a great impression on him. Consequently, King created Letter from Birmingham Jail, because he had to respond and react; thus, all this led to such a long and meaningful letter. He writes, Never before have I written so long a letter. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts, and pray long prayers? (King). First of all, by writing this letter, King probably wanted to clarify the situation and explain to clergymen as well as the general public that his deeds were meant to defend the rights of Blacks, which had been neglected for hundreds of years and it was high time to take direct actions in order to introduce changes. Moreover, there was nothing cruel in those actions: people’s patience just had runoff. Finally, they felt the urgency to do something. In their turn, clergymen did not support that display of dignity and self-esteem. Instead of approving and supporting, they, in fact, criticized and ignored. Such a reaction disappointed King because he considered clergymen to be men of genuine goodwill (King). Though they showed just the opposite, King as a genuine preacher did not lose his faith. In a mildly formulated letter, he tried to convey all the hidden sense of every word he chose to show those clergymen and the society that they were not right.

In the letter, the author discussed several core issues. To start with, King explained why he was in Birmingham and provided background information for his imprisonment. The greater part of the letter is devoted to discussing suppression against Blacks and arguing that it was high time to do something to deal with this situation in society. What is more, the author rose the question of justice and injustice. Indeed, he underlined, One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws (King). Also, in that letter, the author expressed his opinion on extremism and what he understood under that notion. In fact, he was convinced that extremism could be a quite normal phenomenon if people are eager to make something useful by means of it. Unfortunately, King underlined his disappointment with the church and clergy, who turned to be very unjust in their relation to Blacks. At the end of the letter, the author expressed his discontent with the clergy, because of their support of those policemen, who very violently treated demonstrators, and emphasized his pride and respect for the protesters. Indeed, this piece of writing is very impressive, because the author used the means of ethos, logos, and pathos to produce a certain impact on the readers. King masterfully applied the mentioned strategies to underline the fact that it was the time for fundamental changes in the society; it was the time to stop segregation and violation of Black Americans’ rights.

Furthermore, King showed his ethos (credibility) from the very beginning of the letter. He explained that the purpose of his presence in Birmingham was not to make a rebellion; he was there to carry out his presidential duties of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Therefore, in a matter of fact, he had organizational ties in this city. What is more, King pointed out that he felt it was necessary to fight against injustice as it had already crossed all possible boundaries. He admitted that his companions and he were ready to direct action in case of necessity. King gracefully responded to the clergy’s remark that he was an outsider coming in saying that he was an American as well as they were. That is why he and all people who lived in America had equal rights, and ethnic affiliation was not the reason to suppress and abuse. By those statements, King one more time showed his credibility and authority. When he spoke about the urge for direct action, he mentioned a very important fact that those who wanted to be the participants of that had to undergo the process of self-purification. It presupposed, first of all, purification and clearing of consciousness, total dedication, and self-sacrifice. After such words, there was no doubt about the protestants credibility and devotion.

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Still, credibility is not enough to persuade the readers, because the next strategy logos (giving reasons), seems to be the heart of argumentation. King used a lot of methods to appeal to the reader’s logic. From my point of view, the most brilliant one was how he accurately and carefully restated the clergyman’s point of view. The author did not organize his words rudely; he just presented his ability to pick the right words for conveying the right feelings. The usage of analogies also helped to obtain such a result. For example, when King discussed the notion of extremism, he drew an analogy with Jesus Christ talking about his love for people. King stated that if he was an extremist considering the defense of human rights, Jesus must be a love extremist, because he showed boundless and great love for mankind. Another analogy was drawn with Apostle Paul: …and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom far beyond my own hometown (King). Also, King used deductive logic when he started to discuss something general (his description of injustice which had to experience early Christians) and then passed to something concrete (injustice in the society towards Blacks).

At last, it is clear that the emotional side played not the last role. It is the reason for the specific and scrupulous selection of words. Therefore, King gave emotional colors to his letter by using specific language and figures of speech. Beautiful metaphors helped to make the letter very vivid and impressive. For example, King wrote, Our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us or the yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself (King).

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In addition, there are many repetitions that help to emphasize the importance of the problems discussed: Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy… Now is the time to lift our national policy, Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much (King). Together with repetitions, there are inversions that intensified the emphatic effect. What is more, we can observe the masterful application of questions: Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? , Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured? (King). By using a great number of questions, which presupposed some answers, King wanted to make a dialogue between the clergy and the society; he wanted to evoke some reaction.

To sum everything up, King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail is very striking and impressive, because the author masterfully used the strategies of ethos, logos, and pathos. All this helped to convey the main message of the letter, which is the following: all people, irrespectively of nationality and ethnic affiliation, are equal as for their rights and opportunities. The letter was created, first of all, to explain everything to the clergy and society of those times. Nevertheless, the issues discussed are still topical, and everyone can address this piece of writing in order to see a brilliant example of appreciating the importance of valuing people’s honor and dignity.

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