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Rhetorical Elements In Letter From Birmingham Jail

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In such times of crisis, suffrage, and brutality, one man had the courage to make a change. Martin Luther King Jr. was that man, and he went down in history due to his outstanding willingness to act. In August of 1963, King wrote well known yet lengthy essay, “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, he covers many topics in an attempt to get his voice out. King’s main claim in his letter is to introduce evidence of why the segregation laws are wrong, and he did that to his best ability considering he wrote it in jail. King supplies more than enough credibility in his letter by providing examples of African Americans who have suffered the immoral actions from segregationist. While providing examples, King appeals to pathos in a variety of ways. He not only appeals to the emotions of fellow African Americans but all Americans.

In his letter, King begins by telling the reader why he is in Birmingham; continuing on, he addresses many accusations that his actions were untimely. These accusations bothered King, for he was tired of the passivity of African Americans and even the white moderate. Later, he is identified as an extremist and responds with examples of other famous leaders that he finds to be extremist. King believes that one can’t go straight to the extreme segregationist for results and that direct nonviolent action must be taken in order to fulfill the ultimate goal- equality, and freedom. In his closing statement, King begs forgiveness of the reader. If he has made an overstatement of the truth, he begs forgiveness from God.

In reference to ethos, King paints personal credibility and trustworthiness in many ways throughout the entirety of his letter. His intended main audience is the clergymen who see his actions to have negative connotations. The clergymen called him an outsider, and he defends himself by claiming to also be a clergyman. While King doesn’t straight up say, “I am a clergyman”, he does give subtle hints. He refers to them as, “fellow clergymen”, and uses diction like, “we” and “our” that obviously suggests that he too is a clergyman. n the first paragraph, King states, “Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas”. However, he feels that these men were acting out of genuine good, so he decided to answer the questions of the fellow clergymen. The clergymen believed that King was in Birmingham to stir up trouble. In response, he first asserts that as the President of the Southern Biblical leadership council, he was invited there, and his intentions were to orchestrate a nonviolent protest and nothing more. King goes into more detail on his intentions in Birmingham by listing the four steps of a nonviolent protest. First, he gathers information to ensure that injustice is alive, then he attempts to negotiate, however, the clergymen would not comply. The final two steps include self-purification and direct action.

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Along with his ethos appeals, King also provides a strong call of logos. For example, he makes clear that the central purpose of his essay was to answer the statements of the eight clergymen, and doing so he provides many logical arguments that beat down the accusations put forth by the clergymen. The Clergymen first stated that King should have negotiated with community leaders rather than jumping straight into protest. He responds by informing that he did choose to negotiate first, but it failed due to troubles of the leaders of the community. After that didn’t work, King, along with other leaders in the Southern Biblical Leadership Council decided to carry out a peaceful protest. The Clergymen went on to illustrate King’s action as “untimely”. On behalf of this accusation, King writes on how the oppressed have sat back and waited for too long, and it is time to act. He alludes to the untimely statements with emotion by saying, “For years now I have heard the word ‘wait.’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never”.” This emotional response is clearly an awakening for the oppressed to stop waiting.After refuting the statements of the clergymen, King moves on to explain his disappointment in the white moderate. He mentions that he agrees with what they want, but he strongly disagrees with their lack of action. In fact, King believes that the white moderate are worse than the full on segregationist. Mostly due to the fact that the white moderate outnumbers the radical white man by a large margin. Furthermore, King he discusses his disappointment in the church, instead of doing what is right and defending the negroes, the church just passively stands by and watch segregation go on. Rather than playing defense in his response to the eight clergymen, King plays on the offensive side and clearly outscores his opponent (the clergymen).

King’s use of pathos in his letter is extremely professional and it really shows the tone in which he is trying to portray. He expresses emotion throughout the entire letter, but one paragraph in particular seems to outdo the rest. The Paragraph includes an anaphora to emphasize the importance, and many real examples of the hurt that has gone on in the black community. In this paragraph, King provides a series of detailed stories of black men, women, and children suffering at the expense of the cruel behavior of radical whites.

While King did stand against the clergy men outnumbered eight to one, he was successful in his response by proving them wrong with a substantial amount of evidence and examples. King controlled his temper throughout his letter in a way that very few men could. King is successful not only because he stands up for the well being of the African American race, but mainly because he wants what is best for all Americans white and black alike.

King approaches every paragraph of his letter with such expertise and professionalism that speaks deeply into the hearts of Americans. Just one example he provides is in the long paragraph that was filled with emotion. “When you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’”. King utilizes rhetorical strategies along with the experience that he already has, to emphasize his tone and accomplish his goal. He wrote a letter out of a jail cell in Birmingham, and it greatly changed America for the better. Martin Luther King Jr. A true American hero.

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Rhetorical Elements In Letter From Birmingham Jail. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/rhetorical-elements-in-letter-from-birmingham-jail/
“Rhetorical Elements In Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/rhetorical-elements-in-letter-from-birmingham-jail/
Rhetorical Elements In Letter From Birmingham Jail. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/rhetorical-elements-in-letter-from-birmingham-jail/> [Accessed 30 Sept. 2022].
Rhetorical Elements In Letter From Birmingham Jail [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2022 Sept 30]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/rhetorical-elements-in-letter-from-birmingham-jail/
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