An Analysis of Letter from a Birmingham Jail Essay

An Analysis of Letter from a Birmingham Jail Essay

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Letter from a Birmingham Jail was written by Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. in April of 1963, as he sat, as the title states, in a Birmingham, Alabama jail. King had been jailed for his participation in a peaceful protest of segregation in public places such as lunch counters and public restrooms (Berkley, 2003). While jailed, King read a criticism of the protest by a group of white ministers, who felt such demonstrations “directed and in part led by outsiders” were “unwise and untimely”, suggesting that blacks should wait for the court system to work. (Statement by Alabama clergymen, 1963). Dr. King’s letter was written as a response to the criticism (King, 1963).
The following pages will analyze Letter from a Birmingham Jail from a rhetorical standpoint, using the concepts of ethos, pathos and logos in order to determine why King’s Letter from a Birmingham jail continues to be studied today.
Dr. King establishes his credibility early and maintains it throughout the letter. First he addresses his detractors as “fellow clergymen” (King, 1963), establishing himself as an equal. Then he gives his credentials as a leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, establishing his right to be in Birmingham because an “affiliate” of his organization, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights had invited him (King, 1963).
Additionally, references made to both Jewish Old Testament prophets, the Apostle Paul, St Thomas Aquinas, Socrates, the United States Supreme Court and St Augustine, establishing himself as an educated man, knowledgeable in both the secular and religious realms, in addition to providing credence to his stance by citing examples and opinions from them (Hor...


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...eclaration of Independence and Civil Disobedience, Letter from a Birmingham jail has been translated into over forty languages and has served as inspiration for oppressed people around the world, including South African Desmond Tutu, Singer Bob Marley, the prime minister of Ghana, as well as the Solidarity movement in Poland and the Pastor’s movement in East Germany (Berkeley 2003).
Dr King’s skilled use of the concepts of ethos, pathos and logos in writing his Letter from a Birmingham Jail is why the letter continues to be studied. Dr, King’s credibility is solid, his emotional appeals are powerful and his reason is impeccable. Many who read his letter are moved to take up the fight. One could easily imagine the study of Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail continuing for as long as people seek nonviolent means to seek freedom from oppression.

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An Analysis of Letter from a Birmingham Jail Essay

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