Analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.'s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and Thomas Jefferson's 'Declaration of Independence'

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In this work, I will analyze the works of Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Jefferson and review the strategies used in their works.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ is addressed to several Clergymen, explaining the actions that led him to the jail. Fellow Clergymen called King ‘unwise and untimely’ for his work and ideas of peaceful protest. Since King believed that they were ‘good men’, he felt he should explain and answer their statement. Birmingham was influenced by white power and it became a big burden for King as an outsider not to look away. King made it his duty to fight for injustice: “Negros have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation” (King, 2). King was the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference - an organization that operates in every southern state. Because of his moral conscience, he wanted unjust laws to be changed, saying, “Injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere” (King, 2). He had organizational ties in Birmingham that led him from Atlanta to Birmingham to try and stop racial injustice.

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Martin Luther King Jr. felt obligated to carry the gospel of freedom beyond his hometown and answer the call of aid. Anyone who lives in the United States should not be considered an ‘outsider’ anywhere within the country. King was disappointed by the statement his fellow clergymen made about the process that had taken place in Birmingham. The city’s white power structure had left the negro community with no alternative. King went to many steps to try to reason and negotiate with the city fathers, but sadly, they chose not to engage themselves with the negro community.

Martin Luther King Jr. had the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community, and negotiations and certain promises were made to remove racial signs, but as months went by, King realized that they were victims of a broken promise: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (King). That led to them beginning a series of nonviolent marches. King knew that nonviolence creates a tension in which society rises from the depths of prejudice and racism and understands brotherhood. The whole purpose of nonviolence is to make people start talking about the issue of racism and open the door to negotiation. For 340 days negros have waited for their God-given rights, nations like Asia and Africa have moved on to gaining political independence, but America could not respect negros - instead of learning their name they would call them ‘boy’ or ‘nigger’ and humiliate them. King could not ignore a law that he felt was unjust and did not cover every person in the United States: “an unjust law is no law at all” (King). Negros great stumbling block is not white citizens, instead, it is white moderates who are devoted to keeping their order rather than justice. White moderates failed to understand that the law needs to change and that they are dangerous because they stop the flow of social progress. American negros yearn for freedom, eventually, they cannot remain oppressed forever. King explained his reasons for coming to the city, hoping that the white religious leadership of the community would understand the justice of their cause, but sadly, he was disappointed. King never feared the outcome of Birmingham; instead, he believed he will reach his goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to declare why the colonies had to become independent from Britain. In this document, Jefferson wrote what many Americans believe about their rights. Jefferson believes that people have the right to live, the right to be free, and the right to have happiness. The Declaration of Independence goes into great detail about why they should not follow the rules of Britain and choose to take place as a separate nation. All men are created equally, and there are rights governments should not interfere with. If the government does not protect our rights, we the people have the right to overthrow our government and create our government that will protect our rights. The Declaration is important because it gives American citizens equal rights. The king of Great Britain refused to allow governors to pass laws that are important to people. He would leave troops around when the colonies were not fighting anyone, blocking trade and taxing people without it being necessary. Jefferson went into great detail about why the king’s actions have led to the document and why America should be a free independent nation and should not be a part of Britain.

Martin Luther King Jr. uses many strategies in his letter to get the attention of his audience. One of the strategies he is focusing on is the emotional pain of African American, and how racial inequality has caused them to start standing up for themselves. It can also cause them to start hating white people. As an example, when King is telling a short story of his daughter, he gives an example of the human side of the cause of the issue: “When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television and see tears welling up in her eyes when she told that Fun town is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people” (King). King used emotional pain in his letter to allow the audience to imagine if this was them and what would they ever do? King was respectful throughout the letter. He was respectful towards the Clergymen, even when they were criticizing him for his nonviolent marches as “unwise and untimely” (Clergymen). He was careful to show respect towards his audience: “But since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth” (King). A strategy that King uses was building a common ground with his audience, as a Clergyman, he could not allow injustices to keep happening in America while other nations have moved on, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King). He is like the other Clergymen - a religious leader spreading his gospel of peace everywhere, but unlike them, he got arrested because of his action to fight for injustice everywhere.

The Declaration of Independence shows that one of Thomas Jefferson's strategies was using emotion to persuade his audience. An example is when Jefferson was talking about the king of Britain and how he was an unfit ruler and doesn’t didn’t care for the citizens that don’t didn’t live in Britain, “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people” (Jefferson). Using an emotional letter, Jefferson convinces the citizens to agree. That the King doesn’t care for them and it was time for them to start thinking about themselves. This leads to the nation breaking ties with Britain and becoming a nation.

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson is using the audience's humanity. To allow the audience to feel sympathy for the colony, as humans they should have the right to be free and be happy, but they can’t because the king of Britain is holding the colony, on a tight leash. As an example, the document states: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness” (Jefferson). Jefferson went into grate great details about human rights and if a government is not protecting our rights, then we the people should elect a new government.

In conclusion, the ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ was a response from King to his fellow clergymen who criticized him for his nonviolent protest; they called him 'unwise and untimely'. King was defending his methods and strategies of nonviolence and how it can start making people talk about the issue of racism. White moderates had devoted their cause to order; they didn’t want to change the law because they chose to stop the process of social progress. King started his nonviolent protest to create tension in society for people to rise and understand brotherhood. The Declaration of Independence documents were written by Thomas Jefferson to protect the citizens of America and their rights. Citizens believed that God created men with equal rights, and they should be allowed to live life, have liberty, and pursue happiness. The king of Great Britain was not allowing the colony to make their own choices, and the way he was treating the colony affected their beliefs in God's rules of humankind. Jefferson's argument was if the government did not respect their equal rights, then the people should overthrow the government and elect their own governmental boy, which would respect their human rights.

What would you have done if you’re where putting put in the same situation as colored people in 1963? Would you have fought for equal rights for everyone and change the laws that don't justify your God-given rights? Would you agree that the colony should have broken off from Britain? Should people have the power to overthrown their government if they don’t respect the laws of creation? Thomas Jefferson's documents were about getting equal rights for all mankind, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter is about changing the laws that are an injustice. White people have stopped the colored people from expressing their God-given equal rights. I believe it was the right thing for King to have done nonviolence marches because it allowed him to show the world that he was serious about the issue of racism in America. As an example, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (King). And it has done that King's nonviolent protests have shown awareness of racism in America. Thomas Jefferson's document was to explain the purpose of the government; is to protect the values of human rights. The king of Great Britain was being unfair to the colony, which is why I believe that it was a good thing for the colony to separate from Britain. “When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security” (Jefferson). When our government is not respecting our rights, we have the power to change that.

Works Cited

  1. Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference 8th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015. 101-109.
  2. King, Martin Luther. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail: Martin Luther King, Jr.”. FEE Freeman Article, Foundation for Economic Education, 20 Jan. 2014, https://fee.org/articles/letter-from-a-birmingham-jail/#disqus_thread.
  3. “The Declaration of Independence: Full Text”. Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, 4 July 1995, http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/
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Analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Declaration of Independence’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-martin-luther-king-jr-s-letter-from-a-birmingham-jail-and-thomas-jeffersons-declaration-of-independence/
“Analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Declaration of Independence’.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-martin-luther-king-jr-s-letter-from-a-birmingham-jail-and-thomas-jeffersons-declaration-of-independence/
Analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Declaration of Independence’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-martin-luther-king-jr-s-letter-from-a-birmingham-jail-and-thomas-jeffersons-declaration-of-independence/> [Accessed 24 Jun. 2024].
Analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Declaration of Independence’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Jun 24]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-martin-luther-king-jr-s-letter-from-a-birmingham-jail-and-thomas-jeffersons-declaration-of-independence/
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