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MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail

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Invader Meen

on 10 April 2014

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Transcript of MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail

MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail
Paragraphs 17-19
Paragraph 16
Martin Luther's main audience was the white adults of the South. MLK uses Religious authorities like St. Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine. The South was very religious and Saints were very important to white people
3 This explanation of what he defines as a just or unjust law contains a reference point to God, a subject that people do not usually argue with making his definition appear to be the right and you must stay to the moral law or be at odds with God
Description (Cont.)
Disappointed, Passionate
Paragraph 25 Paragraph 26
Paragraph 25: The white moderate say that Martin Luther King Jr.'s peaceful actions must be condemned because they cause violence.
Paragraph 26: In response to the lack of action of the white moderate, Martin Luther King Jr. discusses a letter from Texas that associated time with the struggle for freedom.
Tone: "In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion?"

Effect: "...it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence."

Commentary: "Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock?"
Elements Evidence
Tone: Angry, bitter, irritated

Effect: Martin Luther King Jr. hopes to argue that it is wrong for the white moderate to urge colored people to cease their efforts for constitutional rights.

Commentary: King gives certain comparisons in order to support his point.
The white moderate
Paragraph 14 Paragraph 20
Summary: Martin Luther King demands
his constitutional and God-given rights. He
tells of what it is like to be a "Negro" using
imagery to show what they go through to show
his impatience to when he demands justice all he
receives is the word "wait".
The audience are all the people that support segregation or that don't see segregation as a real problem to show them how difficult the life of an African American is.
Question: What are the subjects, and what one tone does he use? The subjects are all the African Americans and events that have happened to them. The tone used is anger because of the difficult things that all African Americans had to go through and when they demand justice all they get is "wait" for hundreds of years.
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights”

“nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence”
Asia and Africa’s accomplishments and “we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter
Outraged tone

Agitated tone, comparison to give the reader an example, compare Asia and Africa with segregation in the United States

use of parallel structure in the paragraph after
"when you". Example, "when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and father at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brother and sisters..."
Parallel structure makes it easier to read and tries to gain the reader sympathy due to the harsh imagery in the sentences. Mournful tone due to the sadness.
"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate..."
: "I just hoped that the white moderate would understand..."(Repeated several times)
It describes to the reader the current situation of "Negros" and their relations with the "white moderate."
Summary: Martin Luther King shows his reaction to the unjust laws saying that if a person disobeys an unjust law and they accept the consequences in order to show the injustice of that law they are expressing the highest respect for law. Overall to get people to fight for what they think is wrong.
The audience is everyone because he is neutral. It can be to anyone that finds something that not right and Martin Luther King is saying to fight it if you think it is unjust.
"...present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace..."
"I just hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice..."
Made an
analogy that was used
more like a visual
"Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light..."
Effect: Lets the reader empathize the struggle the "Negros" went through without the help of the "white moderate."
"... I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate."
"... that when they fan in this purpose the become the dangerously structured dams..."
"There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience"
Paragraph 23/24
White Congregations
People living in the South
Evidence #1
"White Moderates" is repeated several times in these paragraphs
".., but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice"
Evidence #2
segregation was more common in the South
"...South is a necessary phase of the transition..."
It shows that they are done waiting; their patience is over the breaking point.
Goal: To let the "white moderates" know that the "Negros" in the South are in need of
their help to achieve true justice.
Paragraph 23: What is the subject, and what is the tone?
Formal tone
How the white moderate let the "Negros" down
Disappointed, Rejected
"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."
"In no sense do i advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist."
Comparing the disobedience of the law to what a segregationist does.
"One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty."
When fighting for something that is morally wrong, it must be done with all you heart with no fear of the consequences.
What does King use as examples of unjust laws?
Alabama voter registration
Parading without a permit
King defines an "unjust law" as a law that someone imposes on another that he himself is not willing to follow.
King also says that laws are not necessarily made democratically, citing the Alabama requirements for becoming a registered voter. The Alabama requirements made it virtually impossible for a colored person to become a registered voter.
Finally, King uses the example of his arrest for parading without a permit as a way to demonstrate how a just law can be used in an unjust way.

King is commentating on why he is in jail. He explains that the law that put him in jail was unjust, and he will continue to protest unjust laws.
Parallel in today's world: YouTube copyright system abuse
His tone throughout these paragraphs is authoritative and definitive.
"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."
Encourage all people to fight for what is right.
Element Evidence
Tone: Angry, sorrowful

Effect: Martin Luther King Jr. hopes that the black population will be lifted from this prejudice society to a free and equal one.

Commentary: With these elements, King displays an effective argument, pleading the white moderate to take a stand against racial injustices in this time of need
Tone: "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

Effect: "Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustices to 6e solid rock of human dignity."

Commentary: "We must use time creatively, in knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."
Response Evidence
With reference to the white moderate, the letter from Texas forces Martin Luther King Jr. to plead for deliverance. The white Christians believe that the colored people will gain equal rights eventually. King hopes that the white moderate will realize that the time to act is right NOW.
Letter: "An Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth."
Question: With reference to his audience, why is the letter from Texas effective?
Martin Luther King Jr.'s goal is to defend the constitutional rights of his people. Having been wrongly accused and thrown in jail, King strives to make a difference in a prejudice society.
1. “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?"
2 “I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all””
3 “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
4 “To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
5 This reference to a Jewish philosopher connects segregation to just one religion but to a diverse group, a philosopher is one who observes the world and what they have to say is usually very influential. MLK uses this influence to persuade people to his cause
5 “Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber...”
1 This is an inquisitive and scornful tone. It is also a rhetorical question, the question is very effective on getting the reader to question the long-accepted practices.
2 This quote since he is referring to a Saint, lends some religious weight to his argument. Since the south was very religious it gave validity to his letter.
4 An instructive tone is used to inform his audience more about the difference between a just and unjust law using religious influence of a Saint to aid his argument.
Paragraph 21/22
Tone: Reasonable, educated
Commentary: King emphasizes his point that some laws are unjust my making references to Hitler's treatment of the jews and other unjust laws
Literary devices: King makes significant use of historical allusion in these paragraphs
Effect: These paragraphs would have been very effective. He states that he would stand up for what is right, regardless of what the injustice is, which gives him more credibility. King targeting the Christians and Jews as his audience is also effective because both those groups have been oppressed in the past
"It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the grounds that a higher moral precedent was at stake."
"We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal'..."
"(Civil disobedience) was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions...rather than submit to unjust laws of the Roman Empire
"In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience."
"It was illegal to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany."
"Had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws."
Audience: The target audience for these paragraphs is primarily Christians and Jews. King seeks sympathy from these groups by stating that if the positions were reversed, he would help those in need.
Evidence:"Had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws."
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