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Letter From Birmingham Jail By Martin Luther King Jr: Advocating Equality

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In the United States, as a country of immigration, the issue of racial discrimination has always existed in society. Martin Luther King as an important leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, wrote the letter to respond to Alabama clergymen why he led the movement. In this letter, he used rhetorical elements to demonstrate his thesis, that the government and most white people treat Black people unfairly, so he wanted demonstrations to get more rights and fairness for black people. “Rhetorical analysis is a form of criticism or close reading that employs the principles of rhetoric to examine the interactions between a text, an author, and an audience” (Nordquist). The most important elements of rhetorical analysis are subject, thesis, purpose, audience, person, ethos, and authoritative testimony. Those all make King’s argument more persuasive.

First, King gave people a clear subject and thesis that he was in jail because of injustice treatment to Black people. The subject is the topic of an essay. He wrote the letter to respond to the Alabama clergymen explained why he was in Birmingham jail. “I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham” (King 1). The thesis is the main point of an essay. There was very serious inequality between the whites and the blacks in Birmingham. “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here” (King 1). The businessman does not fulfill the promise, the apartheid law is unfair. For example, the amusement park only accepts white kids, it doesn’t let the Black kids play inside. Even though, there had a law that made apartheid is legal and just. Those are ridiculous for justice.

Second, King’s purpose is obviously to be seen in his letter. The purpose is the author’s rhetorical intention, what he/she is attempting to accomplish. “I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be” (King 1). From the second paragraph, King started discussing why he was in jail, and in the following paragraphs, he talked about the injustice laws and the reason for the demonstration. He stated that he fought for justice and the rights of equality. He is attempting to answer the public statement and persuade clergymen to agree with his point.

Third,King’s purpose is trying to persuade his audience. The audience is the specific, identifiable ‘reader’ an author directs his/her argument towards. King’s audience is his fellow clergymen. At the begging of the letter, King used a polite way to call his audience. “My Dear following clergymen (King 1)” That delights his audience. Then he stated the argument. That taught his audience lessons. At last, he used many facts to move his audience. He achieved his purpose that persuaded his audience to agree with his idea.

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Fourth, Persona is the author’s self-representation in an essay. King’s persona is angry, but he didn’t appear it, he made himself easily to be accepted. In this whole letter, he used manner and calm tone to address his argument. He used the word “Dear”, and called the anxious to “Legitimate concern”. He clearly illustrated his argument to opposing the clergymen’s points of view. We can sense King is very angry with the attitude of clergymen towards the injustice in Birmingham.

Fifth, King used strong ethos appeals in this letter. Ethos is an ethical appeal or the author’s credibility. He demonstrated the reason for injustice between the whites and the blacks. Then he established common grounds that there did exist injustice with clergymen. Such as calling the black people Negro, and motels did not accept the black people. Besides, for fairness, King considered justice is to exist. For example, the court ruled the school should be desegregated. But the school didn’t obey it. It means there is still injustice.

The last but not least, King used authoritative testimony to support his argument. Authoritative testimony is expert testimony other than the author’s used to validate and support his/her claims. King referred to the court case that the Supreme Court ruled the school cancel apartheid. He mentioned historical documents and Bible to tell people that it is reasonable to contrary to the injustice laws. Along with authoritative testimony, King effectively strengthened his credibility.

To sum up, King wrote this letter for advocating equality, he used many rhetorical elements to strengthen his thesis and make his argument more persuasive. He provided many facts in this letter, such as negotiation is ineffective, it can make racial discrimination disappear. The merchants and government didn’t follow their promise. There is no answer for waiting, the only way can change this situation is by initiating demonstrations. He used adequate evidence to strengthen his argument, as well as through making the common grounds to move his audience.

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Letter From Birmingham Jail By Martin Luther King Jr: Advocating Equality. (2021, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
“Letter From Birmingham Jail By Martin Luther King Jr: Advocating Equality.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2021,
Letter From Birmingham Jail By Martin Luther King Jr: Advocating Equality. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2023].
Letter From Birmingham Jail By Martin Luther King Jr: Advocating Equality [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Sept 29]. Available from:
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