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MLK - Letter from Birmingham Jail
Transcript of MLK - Letter from Birmingham Jail
"When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama..." (Paragraph 35)
"A Call for Unity"
MLK - Letter from Birmingham Jail
In Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he is responding to "A Call for Unity," an open letter directed to MLK and his followers criticizing their actions in Birmingham. MLK responded in his letter explaining his actions and why they were necessary.
Paragraph 33 - 44
This specific section addresses the religious role that Martin Luther King embodies. "A Call for Unity" is built on ethos, specifically the power that the 8 white men held as leaders in the clergy. King responds to this retaliating using his own powerful role in the African American and spiritual community.
"Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation..." (Paragraph 44)
Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?" (Paragraph 38)
These rhetorical questions are aimed at the clergymen who stated that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions.” King denounces those statements in this quote by bringing in the allusion to Governor Wallace, who holds a prominent role of leadership and authority in the town of Birmingham. He brings this into his argument because Governor Wallace is known for his racist attitudes. King questions why the clergy would find distaste in his actions but fail to criticize Governor Wallace since they claim to oppose hatred and violence. King's use of these rhetorical questions are effective because it calls attention to a flaw in the clergyman's argument and justifies the actions of the Civil Rights Movement.
This allusion brings in pathos, applying the gruesome images of the labor, and political and social unjust that African Americans have suffered through throughout American history. King's use is effective because he reminds the reader of the horrific past that has not stopped the African American community from fighting for what they believe in. As King states later in the paragraph, "We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands."
Martin Luther King Jr. uses a variety of rhetorical strategies that increase his argument's effectiveness, including:
This allusion to the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama is effective because it drives ethos into the stance of Martin Luther King Jr. It is also effective because of how it emphasizes King's role as a leader, as well as a person who can take control with ease. It directly refutes the argument presented in "A Call for Unity," where they stated that, "All of us need to face responsibility and find proper channels for its negotiations." King refutes this with the allusion of Montgomery, where he found that "White ministers, priests, and rabbis of the south....have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement."
"In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society." (Paragraph 40)
In this comparison, King directly calls out the church for letting society have a bigger impact on their teachings than the church itself. King laments that in past times the church had a great power to transform ideas within the community but nowadays they simply follow along with whatever society tells them is just.
While paragraphs 33-44 do directly respond to specific parts of "A Call for Unity," the most important thing they do is criticize the letter in its whole. The letter says that the church does not support their actions, though they do support the improvement of African American civil rights. In this part of his own letter King replies that they do not in fact support civil rights, having stayed silent throughout many injustices, or sometimes even outright supporting them. King criticizes the church's general attitude and the reader knows the authors of "A Call to Unity" are all included in this call out.