Martin Luther King Jr as an Agent of Change


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King of Change

"You may well ask, ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn't negotiation a better path?' You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So the purpose of the direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. We, therefore, concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in a monologue rather than a dialogue" (King 474-475)

Negotiations hold the key to unlocking doors for disgruntled parties and most often produce a transformation to what seemed to be impossible otherwise. In Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail", he poses the great question of whether to wait for negotiations which have been put off before, or take direct action with a nonviolent movement such as a march or a sit-in. Is there a time when talks can be over looked for something more aggressive like marches or sit-ins? Do the actions fit the need, or should proceeding into such a feat be taken? However the case may be negotiations should be the front-runner in how we maturely deal with differences of opinion and disagreements.

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The need for negotiations is necessary. As a society, we should not go into direct action, but take the time to analyze our problems and bring change without using tension to do so. The use of stress in a situation will only make the possibility of adjustment more difficult to all parties associated with the dispute. Talks between differing sides not only could alter the problem at hand but possibly bring light to other areas that need to be addressed that might not have been dealt with if a march or a sit-in was to occur.

After much frustration with vital meetings and discussions not coming together, even a well-respected man such as Martin Luther King Jr. could not see how negotiations would benefit his cause. He was an intelligent man and an authority on the subject of Nonviolence. He used his presence and his mind to help others see that there was a possibility for change. Moreover, if they believed and followed the rules of Nonviolence, they too would see the transformation that could come from the hard work that they had put into it. King used his situated ethos or authority, experience and identity to give his actions substance so others would follow his lead. Ultimately, he chose to abandon the idea that talks would bring about this transformation and chose marches and sit-ins to propel segregation into the laps of those that had asked him to "wait" for change, force-feeding them the necessity of the cause.

The cause was an emotionally draining fight to make segregation part of the past and advance into the future a fully integrated society. The main rhetorical appeal used by King was Pathos, meaning to appeal to emotion. He used the emotional bind with the use of the word "crisis" to pull his readers in when he wrote, "So the purpose of the direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation" (475). Silently King used his literary voice to make the readers believe that the time to take steps towards a transformation was now. Otherwise, the path to changing segregation would continue to disrupt daily life, demonstrating that the added burden would weigh on everyone's back if some form of nonviolent action were not to take place. The fact that he was writing to a group of people who criticized his present activities made the subtle use of these words most important to conveying his underlying emotional connection to what effects might come from the cause for the movement to alter segregation forever if something did not change.

The urgency of King's writing is reflected in his statement that "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such a creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue" (474). The use of the words "direct action" stated several times throughout the letter brings pre-conceived ideas or commonplace about what is to happen. The term "commonplace" comes from classical rhetoric and uses a powerful word or phrase to sway the reader. Just the word "direct" or "action" alone spark a straight forward outlook into what is to be done, leaving you with no other way to look at the situation. He also demonstrates this powerful rhetoric when he wrote "we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood' (King 475). King used the phrase "nonviolent gadflies" to imply the need for peaceful agitation to further the goal of implementing a change to segregation. How easily a few words can sway your thought process and force you to see things the way the author does. King used emotion, intelligence, and powerful statements to his advantage in his writings to influence his readers.

King writes emotionally about the actions required to progress in the much-needed changes of segregation. Through his writing, he shared an intimate look into his thought processes and how profoundly his literary works can influence his readers. The significant statements he chose to use were well thought out and built a great foundation for his work. The combination of classic rhetoric is certainly made apparent by use of strong words and phrases along with the bold writing style and composition of his text. Although in his time, he did not get to see the abundant changes that were to come from his work, this generation and the generations to come have and will continue to benefit from his work. He left an ever-lasting impression on the world where his spirit will never cease to exist.


Works Cited

King, Martin Luther Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Cultural Conversations. Dilks, et al, eds. New York: BedfordSt.Martin's, 2001. 212-221.


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