The Reasons And Prerequisites Of Writing Letter From Birmingham Jail

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Throughout the period of time where African Americans were quoted as being “separate yet equal” to their white counterparts, many of the equality did not seems to exist. Prevalent examples are seen in the south, especially in Birmingham, Alabama with Rosa Parks and the bus incident. Or perhaps mentioning the time a group known as the Freedom Riders were arrested for their peaceful protest against the bus system. Many African Americans were hopeless for change, yet they would soon to be inspired. April 12th, 1963: Dr. Martin Luther Dr. King was arrested for his protests and put in a Birmingham Jail, to where he would later write a letter in response to another letter titled “A Call for Unity”, In this letter, Dr. King is criticized by clergymen for his decision to protest for civil rights rather than through the court system. Though the protest were seen as calm and peaceful, the clergymen believed them to be useless and that the court system would be a better approach. In Dr. King’s own letter, he responds directly toward the clergymen, speaking on racism and injustices happening towards the Black community and why he decided that protesting seemed like the only way for change to exist. Dr. King uses many different rhetorical devices such as all appeals in the rhetorical triangle those being logos, pathos and ethos. Each being able to appeal to those reading the letter in different ways because though he wanted to respond to the clergymen, he knew that a larger audience would read his publication and thus made clear points toward the previously mentioned issue on racism and discrimination.

In the letter, Dr. King appeals logos to justify the civil right movement activity in which he appeals the most often compared to the others. He often appeals to facts mostly contained around unjust laws and often posing a question of when a law is unjust or not. One early example is when he references his lack of response to most criticism aimed at him in which he says “If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work.”. The appeal is clear as it is almost certain that a man with Dr. King’s polarizing fame would evidently receive many responses and letters from both his supporters and adversaries. Dr. King appeals in such a way to strength that his reason for answering to clergymen was not an act of anger or bickering but instead to answer the questions of men ‘concerned’ for the city of Birmingham. Beginning his letter with this surely strength his message across the letter and sets the tone for his latter statements. Another one that catches the attention of the reader is when Dr. King speaks on why he insists on protests rather than court appeals. He says: “The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” He appeals to logos as he mentions that humanity has always seemed to change perspectives or plans when encountering an act that could cause panic or stress so he had hoped a similar instance would occur.

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Emotion is a large factor in many of Dr. King’s actions, and so it is to no surprise that his letter is littered with appeals to pathos. Particularly one that I favor is one relatively in the middle of the letter. Dr. King states “In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure”. This appeals to pathos because Dr. King is not from Birmingham or even Alabama, yet he came and planned protest in hopes that the higher power White community would feel at least moved enough to garner potential change in the judicial system, showing his passion towards equality. Dr. King also has a large appeal to emotion near the end where he motivates his supporters who would surely read his letter when he says, “For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton Dr. King; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation – and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.” Here, Dr. King points towards the heart and determination of his people who were at their lowest in morality and happiness during slavery yet pushed through until it was abolished that inevitably they would push past the discrimination and segregations put on them. Many of Dr. King’s speeches or written word contain powerful and moving messages and his letter is no different.

Moving forward, Dr. King would continue his appeals in his letter and ethos in no exception. He often references philosophical figures and challenges perspectives in his appeals to ethos, such his reference to rebellion of the early United States when he states, “In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.”. This appeals to ethos as the Boston Tea Party is an important event in American history as it would set the groundwork for the fight for independence and made the United States what it is today. He also mentions white activist who are rooting for Dr. King’s ideals. He states: “I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some – such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle – have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms.” He uses the reputation of this relatively known white activist as a way to open the eyes of the clergymen who downplay Dr. King’s actions by the appealing to ethos.

All in all, Dr. King’s “A Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written because felt it was necessary to emphasis why protesting was his choice to the clergymen who believed Dr. King’s actions were wrong. It also served to speak out towards racism and discrimination and show out it is a current issue. In his letter, he is able to appeal to logic, emotion and even reputation in order to answer the question on why he chooses to fight back the way he does and even to encourage his followers to continue to push forward regardless of the animosity and hate they would receive. King is without question a genius in his own regard as he created a piece that is moving but one in which all the references and appeals were made all through prior knowledge. The letter itself would soon create a new wave of followers and would start a new push for civil rights, and King would soon get what he pushed so hard for.

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The Reasons And Prerequisites Of Writing Letter From Birmingham Jail. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 25, 2024, from
“The Reasons And Prerequisites Of Writing Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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