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Letter From Birmingham Jail

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by

Quyan Smith

on 23 September 2014

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Transcript of Letter From Birmingham Jail

Focus Idea
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
8 Clergymen & White Populous
1800 Christian Church Lane
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Background
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
In the 1950’s and 1960’s African Americans fought for full legal equality. This era was called the Civil Rights Movement. The primary goal of this crusade was to end discrimination, social segregation, and racism. There were many Civil Rights Activists however the most visible and influential leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. From boycotts to speeches Dr. Kings’ efforts were applauded and lead to the revolutionary Civil Rights Act of 1964. An open letter in which Dr. King wrote, while sitting in jail, in response to a newspaper statement about the movement has been dubbed “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. Throughout the letter Dr. King methodically appeals to the logical, emotional, spiritual, and ethical side of a person. This letter is an overlooked paragon of the Civil Rights Movement however it is probably one of the most important documents ever published during that era.
Dr. King methodically appeals to the logical, emotional, spiritual, and ethical side of a the reader throughout the letter.
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Letter From Birmingham Jail
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
"I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds." (970)
Logical Appeal
The quote above demonstrates through logic that he, Dr. King, and any other person has every right to oppose injustice; not only in Birmingham but anywhere in the United States, for everyone is affected because we are one equal people.
Logical & Ethical Appeal
“Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. And is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?” (973)
Dr. King uses both logical and ethical appeals in this portion of the letter. He uses his knowledge of important public figures to prove his credibility and ethically appeal to the reader. Paul Tillich was a German American philosopher and Christian theologian. Dr. King uses his ideals of equality in sin. This argument is more effective logically because the letter is address to the leaders of the Christian church.

Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Conclusion
The letter from Birmingham Jail is beautifully written missive written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was written to address 8 clergy leaders from local Christian Churches however the letter addresses all white treatment of the African American people. Dr. Kings well placed words appeal to the sensible, logical, and emotional side of the most prejudiced person to walk this earth. He gives emotional pleas that reference grief, anger, and fear in order to gain sympathy from the reader. These are emotions that all people have once felt. Comparisons of his cause to great causes of the past prove his ethical appeals to be very effective. The Letter from Birmingham Jail as it stands is one of the definitive documents of the Civil Rights Movement.
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Emotional Appeal
“We should never forget that everything that Adolf Hitler done in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so…I would have aided & comforted my Jewish brothers” (974)
Dr. King proves his character credibility through an emotional plea. He illustrates that no matter the consequence he would do the right thing. His trustworthiness and dependability are confirmed. Prejudice is a battle that he knows too well thus he has the ability to empathize with what Jews endured in Hitler’s Germany. As student of Gandhi’s theories of nonviolent resistance he simply wanted a world filled with peace thus he suffered without retaliation.
Emotional Appeal
“…our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us” “unsolved bombings of negro homes and churches” “drained of self-respect and a sense of sombodiness…blemished and scarred through social neglect and through fear” “when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored".”(968-80)
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
This is a heart wrenching emotional appeal the reader would want to side with his cause out of pure sympathy. Dr. King paints himself and other African Americans as defenseless and incapable of standing up for themselves in society that they are not welcomed. He shows that same society encouraging segregation of the people causing tension and turmoil. The disparity in this quote speaks volumes.
Logical Appeal
“I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of preachers.” (978)
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Dr. King uses the fact that he, his father, his father before him, and his father before him have all been preachers. This strong familial history within the church gives him an upper hand in this argument or at least evens the playing field with the members of the clergy. It shows that his knowledge of God and church is great and gives him an authority on what is morally, ethically and spiritually proper.
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Emotional Appeal
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (972)
In this argument Dr. King makes references to the painful experience of slavery both literally and figuratively. In order to escape slavery African Americans had to demand their freedom. This fight for freedom divided the country and eventually caused a civil war. Once again as a people the African Americans are fighting for civil rights.
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Birmingham Jail
425 6th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Ethical Appeal
Jesus Christ: “…an extremist of love”
Paul: “…an extremist for the Christian Gospel”
Amos: “…an extremist for Justice?
John Bunyon: “…stand in jail…before…butchery of my conscience”
Martin Luther: “…an extremist”
Abraham Lincoln: “…cannot survive half slave and half free”
Thomas Jefferson: “…all men are created equal” (976)
Dr. King uses these known authorities ideals of justice, love and equality to support his own cause. He compares his extremist views and activist movements to historical authoritative figures in order to make his argument more effective.
Full transcript