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Letter from a Birmingham Jail

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Jamey Cane

on 20 February 2015

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Transcript of Letter from a Birmingham Jail

First paragraph is respectful, formal, and uses denotative vocabulary
Followed by a section (p.2-22) filled with crescendos from calm, respectful, denotative language followed by paragraphs of charged, connotative language that helps to emphasize each point King addresses.
Then King switches to charged, critical language, periodically interrupted by paragraphs of calm denotative language reaffirming his position in the church and goodwill.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
The Wonders of Diction
Jamey Cane and John Godfrey
In General the Diction is...
Formal by definition, apart from the inclusion of personal pronouns. (To no fault.)
Generally respectful in word choice even when criticizing
Words add emotion in times of crescendo, but never crosses the threshold of too much emotion
Denotative, respectful, abstract, noncontroversial language
Emotionally charged, connotative, clear/concrete images, "controversial language"
Paragraph 1
Paragraph 2-4
Paragraph 5
Part of Paragraph 6
Paragraph 6-7
Paragraph 8-11
Paragraph 12-14
Paragraph 15-17
Paragraph 18-20
Paragraph 21-22
Paragraph 23-26
Paragraph 27-31
Paragraph 32-37
Paragraph 38-39
The Roller Coaster of Diction
Paragraph 40-43
Paragraph 44-45 (first part of 45)
Paragraph 45-46
Paragraph 47-End
"gravely disappointed with the white moderate..." (p.23)
"obnoxious negative peace..." (p.24)
"the white moderate would reject myth concerning time..." (p. 26)
"...fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist." (p. 27)
" creative outlet of nonviolent direct action..." (p.30)
"...oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race..." (p.32)
"...languished in filthy, roach infested jails... brutality... disease of segregation." (p.32)
"In spite of my shattered dreams..." (p.36)
Summary of Patterns...
(Very General Trend)
"I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointed heavenward." (p.38)
"Since I feel that you are men of genuine good will..."
"So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound." (p.41)
"inextricably bound to the status quo... paralyzing chains of conformity..." (p.43)
"We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation..." (p.44)
"You warmly commended the... police force..." (p.45)
-"I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms."
"...had seen the dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes." (p.45)
-"...the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a non-violent direct action program." (2)
"I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation." (p.47)
-"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." (4)
"...superficial kind of social analysis..."
-"...But your statement...fails to express a similar concern for the conditions brought about by the demonstrations."
...collection of facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiations; self-purification; and direct action."
"...self-purification... nonviolence... bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change." (p.8)
"...direct action program... beloved Southland...." (p.11)
-"...but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
"Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely..." (21)
"...where certain principals dear to the christian faith are suppressed..." (22)
"All sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negros from..." (18)
"...they are both segregationist... lamentably, is is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily." (p.12)
"disease of segregation..." (p.13)

"...as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy." (20)
"This is certainly a legitimate concern." (15)
" its ugly record of brutality is widely known..." (p.6)
"...humiliating racial signs..." (p.7)
Reoccurring Words/Phrases
On top of the roller coaster
"negative peace"
Bottom of the roller coaster
Justice, injustice, freedom, good faith, constructive, nonviolent, just/unjust, social progress, disappointment, optimistic, warmly
"An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law." (16)
Full transcript