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Letter From Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis

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Martin Luther King Jr. was one of USA’s most famous civil rights activists’ leader. He was arrested and imprisoned for protesting the harsh treatment of blacks in Birmingham, Alabama. While in jail, he decided to write a letter that answered the concerns of the white religious clergymen. His letter gives a reason to why he is in Alabama, his reasons for breaking the law, his disappointment in the church and finally he hopes that racial prejudice will end and there will be mutual understanding between the two communities. In his letter, Martin Luther King Jr. effectively uses logos, ethos and pathos to persuade his audience.

In his letter, Martin starts by explaining his reasons for being in Birmingham. Seeing He is the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he was called by the affiliate to engage in a non-violent action program. He is needed to be in Birmingham since there are injustices and he is responding to his Macedonian call. While in Atlanta, he can’t ignore the injustices since injustice anywhere is a threat to society. King goes on to chastise his critics for failing to recognize the reason for the black demonstrations. He insightfully elucidates why they cannot wait any longer for freedom to be granted. They have waited for 340 years anticipating, hoping and praying for their constitutional and God given rights and each time they have been told to wait. He proceeds to explain the wait is over. He adds occasionally freedom is never granted, the oppressed have to demand for it. He reminds them of the 1954 Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw segregation in public schools. They are demonstrating since it’s still a huge predicament yet when they protest, they are arrested for fighting. He expresses how disappointed he is with is with the church for not supporting them during the bus protest in Montgomery. The white ministers who are supposed to be by their side through thick and thin turned out to be outright opponents. He argued it is ironical for the church to urge it congregation to comply with desegregation because it’s the law rather than telling them to do so because it’s morally right. Lastly, the church blatantly chose to ignore the racial and economic injustice claiming they were social issues with which the church has no concern with. He concludes his letter hoping that the racial prejudice will end and a new era will be born.

King uses rhetorical appeals to show his credibility, to explain various issues and to express his emotions on racial prejudice. He uses ethos to establish himself as credible person and to show he had a say on the issue of racial prejudice. He starts his letter by addressing the clergymen as “fellow” to show they are on the same level and the white clergymen were no better than him despite the fact that he was in jail. Because he is president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he is called by an affiliate to engage in demonstrations against racial prejudice. His position of being president of an organization enables him to have wisdom and knowledge on how to deal with the matter at hand. He likens himself to Paul who was a Biblical character who was called upon to respond to the Macedonian call of aid.

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In addition, King uses logos to explain he is in Birmingham because there is in injustice. He explains he can’t sit idly in Atlanta and not care because injustice triggers the spread of injustice to areas which are peaceful. He explains why use of nonviolent action was appropriate and he argues that nonviolent actions brings about some tension since it magnifies the issue at hand and the community cannot afford to disregard it. He expresses how saddened he is by the fact that the white moderate does not understand that the Negroes are on the path of restoring themselves. Demonstrations are an important step for the restoration of the black man because they are fighting for what is rightfully theirs. By them demonstrating they are not creating tension they are bringing out the tension that is already within the community. To really get to his audience he likens the tension to a boil that is always covered for the wound to heal some light and air need to be shed upon it for it to heal quickly. King disagrees with a white brother who thinks that black are in too much of a hurry. He elucidates how people with bad intentions have used their time effectively compared to people of good intentions. He uses that to show how they have been told to keep waiting and indeed they have waited but nothing has changed whereas the black people failed to demand for their rights and had to wait for so many years for justice to be served. They can’t afford to wait any longer and for any progress to happen, it must be coupled up with a lot of effort and waiting for the right time will only prolong this process.

King uses pathos to appeal to the human emotions when he’s explaining how brutal police officers were with his fellow black people. He says “but when you’ve seen how vicious mobs lynch mothers and father sat will and drown your sisters, when you Negro brothers suffering in poverty in the midst of an affluent society”. He creates an imagery of how bad and ugly the situation is. It makes the audience feel the emotion and the pain of the black community. How can a child watch their parents being beaten by police officers and yet the parent is the ones supposed to protect them? He shows how ironical it is when the society is flourishing yet the black community is stuck in poverty. It is especially sad how a parent lacks an answer for why white people are mean. A parents wish is to protect their children from any danger, pain or situation however, if a child can already tell that a white child detests them, it calls upon for change.

In conclusion it is evident King was a passionate with his work. This is shown when he takes the extra step of writing the letter while in jail. He explains thoroughly in a manner that is warm and can appeal to the human emotion. His hope was for the world to be free of racism, we are not yet there; but we soldier on!

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Letter From Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
“Letter From Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
Letter From Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2023].
Letter From Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 21 [cited 2023 Sept 29]. Available from:
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