A Letter From Birmingham Jail Analysis

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In 1863, The Emancipation Proclamation passed in the United States signifying the freedom of African American slaves. Although slavery was now declared illegal, the fight for equality was far from over. Almost a century later, African Americans continued to face inequality, especially in Birmingham Alabama, sparking concern from the famous leader and activist, Martin Luther King. King headed straight to Birmingham with the intention of peaceful, yet effective, demand for equality. This caused upset amongst powerful citizens and organizations, including the white church.

Eight clergymen addressed their concerns regarding King in a newspaper article titled, “A Call For Unity”, where they argued King’s invitation, timing, and qualifications. Angry and eager for change, King responds to the claims made by the Clergymen in his famous argument, “A Letter From Birmingham Jail”. By establishing his purpose, King states his role as “President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference” which in fact, has headquarters in Alabama, strengthening his argument regarding his invitation. Additionally, King claims he was personally invited by local affiliates in Birmingham, asking for service regarding “nonviolent direct-action”. King states he is compelled to carry the gospel of freedom to places other than his hometown, just as the Apostle Paul had done with the word of the Lord.

He then shifts the concern to the white church, arguing why Church officials have stayed on the sidelines and watched inequality take place for years. Furthermore, King makes the argument that there’s never a better time for direct action and social justice. Courtroom cases lack progress, whereas civil disobedience allows for concern and attention. Although King has the disadvantage writing in jail, his efforts were heard loud and clear, and will forever change the way Americans view segregation.

At the time, King was considered controversial among the south; African Americans valued King’s efforts whereas Church officials and Ku Klux Klan members saw him as a threat. In order to make a big enough impact for the United States, King needed to use an assortment of persuasive techniques to motivate his readers [white church moderates] to stand up for prejudice discrimination. [In an effort to grant equality for every American, Martin Luther King uses emotionally loaded diction, personal anecdotes, and vivid historical illustrations to capture the experience of being a black American. He furthers his point through a passionate, yet assertive tone to persuade his audience on why prejudice actions should be abandoned, further establishing a feeling of empathy in his readers towards the oppressed].

In hopes to open the hearts of white moderates and unveil the true conditions African American citizens experience every day, Martin Luther King uses emotionally loaded diction to elicit a response of angst and empathy in his audience. The black community fought tirelessly to see the end of slavery, only to be placed under a similar practice of oppression from the white community.

King warns his readers that silencing the oppressed will only result in violence; “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever…” and that the “… yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself and that is what has happened to the American Negro,” (King 7). The silencing of black lives regarding their rights as American citizens will only lead to a larger, more aggressive fight for equality. In response to the clergymen’s claim against street protesting, King furthers his warning stating, “If [African Americans’] repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways they will seek expression through violence…” (King 7).

Through emotional and descriptive diction, the white moderates reading King’s letter are able to put themselves in the shoes of an African American citizen. King advocates for nonviolent resistance and gives evidence to why oppressed actions will not only result negatively for the African Americans, but the white community as well. In conclusion, King’s use of emotional diction enlightens a new perspective for the white audience creating concern for retaliation from the black community and empathy for black lives in hopes to spark change.

King furthers his argument against segregation by claiming unjust laws should not be treated as moral laws through personal anecdotes, and further proves the effect corrupt laws have on society. At the time, the laws set in place coincide with the rights granted to every American citizen. King uses personal stories to show how the justice system is damaging the emotional well-being of children and adolescents growing up during the 20th century.

He explores the struggle of being an African American parent; “…When you suddenly find…your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go the the public amusement park… and [you] see ominous clouds in inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her… developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people…” (King 4). King tells this personal experience in hopes that the reader will reflect on- whether they have kids or not- the societal norms the youth picks up on disregarding the life of a human being simply because of their skin color. These are the morals that segregation is teaching the next generation; by focusing on the mistreatment and inequality of children, King hopes his readers will feel empathetic to the innocence of the youth and inspire action among the moderates.

King effectively fosters a feeling of empathy within his readers; if they have kids of their own, their goal is to raise them with positive self-image and good morals. Growing up under the influence of racism, segregation, and oppression only lessens the child’s potential to be great. To summarize, King fosters empathy through the use of personal anecdotes regarding the wellbeing of children in hopes to inspire the parents of the white church and revolt against inequality.

Through vivid historical descriptions, King makes it clear that the white church plays a large role in the lack of change for equality. King starts by expressing that he is a follower and lover of the church, “Yes I love the the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes I see the church as the body of Christ. But oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists,” (King 9).

King uses extreme diction like “…blemished and scarred the body,” (King 8) to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind depicting the true damage the white moderates have on the black community. King then compares the modern day Christians to the founding Christians stating, “The early Christians…were willing to to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire” (King 5). King compares the early Christians’ fight for freedom with the African American’s call for equality. King raises the concern regarding the Church’s core morals and their ability to withhold conforming to the greater society.

King adds, “In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities”( King 9). Strong diction such as “blatant injustices” and “sanctimonious trivialities” examine the white church’s disregard for human worth the white moderates have succumbed to. Whether white church moderates have knowingly or subconsciously considered themselves superior to black lives, the use historical descriptions ignite this realisation in the reader, causing empathy for black lives.

About half a decade later, King’s letter remains relevant and continues to empower the minds of upcoming generations while successfully creating strides towards a better future regarding equality to all. Shortly after “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was released, King was shot on the balcony of his hotel and pronounced dead April 4, 1968. Although he died premature and tragically, King’s assassination as well as his inspiring fight for justice, sparked a revolutionary change for the way Americans treat colored citizens, which in the end, is all MLK could have asked for.

While King helped shape the future of America through multiple platforms, “Letter From Birmingham Jail” truly represents King’s emotions and drive to resolve inequality. King preaches the importance of empathy through realization and self contemplation in the white moderate community through multiple examples and strategies. By asserting a passionate tone, King’s audience effectively understands a world filled with equality and social justice will better every citizen by diminishing the chance for social chaos and rekindle the Christian morals which were lost so long ago.

Works Cited

  1. King, Martin Luther. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Letter from Birmingham Jail , 16 Apr. 1963.
  2. “Martin Luther King, Jr.” Contemporary Black Biography. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1992. Gale Biography in Context. Web. 16 May 2012.

Cite this paper

A Letter From Birmingham Jail Analysis. (2021, Jun 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/a-letter-from-birmingham-jail-analysis/



What is the main purpose of the Letter from Birmingham Jail quizlet?
The Letter from Birmingham Jail quizlet is designed to help students learn about and understand the main points of the letter.
What was the main point of the letter from Birmingham jail?
The main point of the letter was to address the issue of racial segregation in America, and to call for an end to discrimination against African Americans.
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