Letter From Birmingham Jail Summary and Rhetorical Analysis

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Martin Luther King Jr. was a black civil rights activist for Black Americans in the 1950s. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and placed in a Birmingham Alabama Jail because he was protesting without a permit. During his time in jail, he wrote a letter to a group of white clergymen titled “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” The reason he wrote the letter was to let the United States of America know how blacks were really being treated. He also wanted to let everyone know that him going to jail was not going to stop the civil rights movement. Blacks will continue civilly disobeying unjust laws until they get just laws that all humans deserve. Within his Letter, King used ethos, pathos, and logos to help build his argument on why Black Americans will continue to civilly fight back on unjust laws.

King’s Letter begin by addressing the reason he came to Alabama, and that was to show the clergyman that he just did not come here on a whim. He was apart of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was invited to Alabama to aid them in the negotiations with the business leaders. He tells the clergymen how Birmingham Alabama is the most segregated and how Blacks are being treated unjustly. King and his team originally came to negotiate with the leaders of Birmingham, but he also needed the tension to be there while he was there.

So, he prepared his team on what self-purification looked like in this situation. They knew it was going to be a hard battle, but they were not going to resort to violence no matter what him and his team had to endure. Even after everything happened to them, him and his people did not crack. Clergymen were telling him to wait until the thought of being unsegregated was not so new to the White people. King kindly told them that Blacks could not wait any longer for justice. Blacks have been waiting for 340 years for the “right” time to get justice.

Wait has turned into never. Clergymen was shocked to see how him and his group was so willing to break the laws. In King eyes, breaking an unjust law is not a crime. To obey a law that hinders people’s civil rights is a crime. Lastly, King talks about how disappointed he is in the church because they decided to be moderate on the issue of segregation.

Ethos: As soon as he started the letter, he establishes his credibility, by stating that he is the president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Which is huge because he traveled all around the south helping his people protest and change things around them. King, through his letter, makes references to some big historical figures, which helped to show that he was an educated black man in America. Referencing the historical figures also gave validity to what he was saying in the letter. King’s usage of the ethos appeal throughout his letter makes it harder to break his credibility because every historical figure he references goes perfectly with the civil rights movement. He also uses this appeal to prove that being called an extremist is not a bad thing.

Logos: Dr. King uses a lot of logos in his letter to show the reasoning behind his thinking and his team’s actions. King makes a point by bringing up in his letter that during World War II it may have been legal to kill Jews and do all those horrible things to them, but was it right? We are all humans at the end of the day, and no one is superior than another. He goes further to explain what he feels are Human Rights. King’s writes that they will not follow unjust laws like segregation because those laws makes one race superior than the other. He used four steps:

  1. Determine whether injustice is there,
  2. Negotiation,
  3. Self-purification, and
  4. Direct action.

When him and his team used these logics, Dr. King would help them set out a plan of action.

King uses pathos in his letter to really help paint a picture in his audience’s mind. Blacks have waited over 340 years for their rights as human beings. Blacks have had to watch their family members be killed because of the color of their skin. Even after watching their families be murdered in front of them, all clergymen could say was wait. Waiting did not help the suffering Blacks had endured. Yes, the Federal Government outlawed slavery, but in return states in the south came up with the Jim Crow laws to continuously keep Black people down. It allowed racist whites to keep degrading black people publicly with no consequences.

Even the officials that were supposed to be ensuring justice were promoting violence towards Black people. The hate even went down to the kids of the Black community. It tugged on the heart strings when King describes how hard it is to tell his kids they can not got to the park because they are black. To tell your kids they are hated just because of their skin color is a hard thing to do. Kids are so innocent and most definitely should not be subjected to hate. When King spoke about how the kids were affected by discrimination, hit close to home for a lot of people. He wanted to appeal to the white people and he wanted them to imagine how their kids would feel if they had to deal with discrimination.

Martin Luther King Jr. uses all three of the rhetorical appeals to give his letter the edge it required in order to touch the minds and hearts of the reader. King uses ethos to establish credibility for his claims and assertions. He references great historical figures to back up his argument. Once he is done using moral truth and Christianity to appeal to the clergymen. He then uses logos to make sure that everything he is saying was warranted and logical.

He agreed that everyone should follow just laws but if they are unjust laws then they should be disobeyed. In his Letter, he uses the point that Blacks Americans did not have the right to vote as a example of an unjust law. An unjust law is any law that majorities make but they do not have to follow themselves. A just law is a law that treats everyone the same and without segregation. The last rhetorical appeal he made in his Letter was pathos. Pathos is the most important argument because he was appealing to their emotions.

King wanted them to know all the suffering that Black people had endured on the years. He wanted to painted a picture in their mind of what it was like to be Black. He gave great detail on how segregation affected his people and even the children. He wanted them to truly understand why Black people felt that the laws were unjust. King used these three rhetorical devices in such a way that they were all made stronger by the other. This is part of the reason why his letter was so widely renowned.

Cite this paper

Letter From Birmingham Jail Summary and Rhetorical Analysis. (2021, Jun 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/letter-from-birmingham-jail-summary-and-rhetorical-analysis/



What is the rhetorical agenda purpose of King's letter?
The primary purpose of King's letter is to appeal to the humanity of his audience in the hopes of gaining their support for his cause. A secondary purpose is to provide a glimpse into the conditions of African Americans in the South and the injustices they face on a daily basis.
What is the rhetorical situation in Letter from Birmingham Jail?
The rhetorical situation of Letter from Birmingham Jail is that the author is addressing an audience of white clergymen who have criticized his involvement in the civil rights movement.
What rhetorical devices are used in letter from a Birmingham Jail ?'?
In "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", Martin Luther King Jr. uses several rhetorical devices to make his argument, including ethos, pathos, and logos.
What rhetorical strategies are used in paragraph 25 of a letter from Birmingham jail?
Paragraph 25 consists nearly entirely of rhetorical questions , meant to challenge the audience to formulate an answer or solution that negates King's argument. It shows that King is secure enough in his argument at this stage to ask questions such as, "But is this a logical assertion?
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