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Letters from Birmingham Jail
Transcript of Letters from Birmingham Jail
In paragraphs 12-22, Martin Luther King Jr refutes his attacker's arguments of untimeliness and law breaking.
How his Argument is supported
Martin Luther King Jr.‘s argument in this section is supported by debunking the Clergy men’s statement of his fighting being untimely by saying,
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our unconstitutional and God given rights.”
And he says,
“I hope, sirs, you understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
These two quotes support the main idea about how it is the right time to fight because they have waited too long and now they have grown tiresome of getting denied and now they want to fight back.
He also says their fighting is okay because of unjust laws that shouldn't even be there. He backs this up by saying
“A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.”
The Structure of King's Argument:
Starts with addressing a claim such as the one at the beginning of paragraph 12
- One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely.
Then he addresses the claim through logos, allusions, and textual evidence. Using a combination of the three to keep his credibility and present a balanced argument.
- Logos exits through taking into account recent events such as the election of the mayor. As long as just straight up logical reasoning.
- Allusions are usually references to the Bible.
- Textual evidence is pulled from letters or other sources.
Arguments are generally closed with an appeal to pathos while still hanging on to the primarily logos centered argument.
- Largest example being the example involving the young child and how racism keeps her from doing the things that she wants.
Rhetorical Strategies Used:
Rhetorical Strategies – Paragraphs 12-17
- Pathos is used to describe the suffering of African-Americans and appeal to the emotions of the whites.
- Paragraph 14 uses specific examples of the hardships the Negroes have had to encounter, and they are emotionally deteriorating. Example:
“But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters.”
- These emotional appeals are used to enforce guilt upon the whites for the poor treatment of the Negroes and help them better understand why the Negroes are demanding for justice.
- In Paragraph 16, King uses quotes from religious figures and philosophers to demonstrate his knowledge of religion and morality, as he argues that it is defied by segregation. Example:
“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.”
- These references establish King’s credibility by demonstrating his knowledge of religious philosophy.
- They also indirectly show how the religious leaders/philosophers the white men look up to do not approve of segregation.
Rhetorical strategies used:
- Allusion (paragraphs 19, 21, 22)
- Logos (paragraph 18)
Throughout paragraphs 17 through 22, Martin Luther King Jr. uses plenty of allusions and some logos as well. In this section of the letter, King is trying to get the audience to accept his view on just and unjust laws and he uses logos and allusions to do so. He first uses logos to try to get the audience to open their eyes and see things the way he sees them. King says,
“even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?”
This logos is ultimately meant to broaden the view of the congressmen. King wants them to notice the unfair world they have all been living in. It is also used to catch the attention of the audience. Once he has their attention, he moves on and uses multiple allusions to possibly try to make them feel guilty. The first allusion he uses (paragraph 19) tells his story of why he got arrested and how it is unjust. By doing this, he victimizes himself. He points out that the system is flawed and it needs to be fixed.
Once he has showed them that he has been falsely arrested and that he was only trying to do good, he compares himself to the early Christians who refused to accept the unjust laws of the Roman Empire, Socrates, and the people of the Boston Tea Party. He does this to try to get them to see him as a good person, rather than a criminal.