Letter From Birmingham Jail By Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. is easily the first name that comes to mind when thinking of the civil rights movement. King helped the movement grow by advocating nonviolent and civil disobedient acts shaped by Gandhi’s own methods in India. He was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama after showing civil disobedience when he paraded down the streets in protest without a parade permit. It is here that he wrote “The Letter from Birmingham Jail”, a piece of work still seen today as a magnificent literary piece of history. In the letter, King uses logos, pathos, and ethos to appeal to both the clergymen he is writing to and the public that also reads the letter.
In the letter, King states, he is upset with the clergymen of Birmingham because they have chosen not to support King because of the “tension” he has created. He refers to these clergymen as “white moderates” throughout the letter. Saying that these men are often worse than the racists of the South because they support racism differently. They choose to stick to their moral ways that oftentimes support immoral acts. They choose to let the racists go on rather than create a problem. They choose to say that time will fix the issue. King argues all of these logics by saying that using moral ends to support immoral ways is just as bad as using immoral ends to support immoral ways. He says by watching racism go on and doing nothing they are supporting racism. King reminds the clergymen that time is neutral, and that time will continue to go on with or without change.
King uses logos throughout the letter to create a better understanding of his reasoning for being in Birmingham through a more logical stance. In the letter, King reminds the readers that he was invited to Birmingham. He did not just come to Birmingham on his own free will but rather because he has ties in Birmingham that wanted him to come. King also reminds the clergymen that the black community does not have any other choice but to stand up for their rights. The white community is in such power that it makes it so that the only power the black community has is to protest. While reminding the clergymen of this, he is also quick to remind them also of the fact that their protests are nonviolent on their side. They do not ever inflict harm unto anyone else. King addresses the clergymen’s concern with the fact that they have chosen to break the law. He understands their concern and even claims that is it legitimate, but he also states the laws they choose to break are unjust. King reminds the clergymen that an unjust law is really no law at all for it has no support and is degrading to individuals. He also talks about how in Nazi Germany the people that chose to help the Jews were breaking the law, but they had a moral obligation to help those being hurt by an unjust law.
King evokes emotion throughout the letter through his use of pathos. He states how the black community has 340 years for their rights and the time is now to fight the injustice that has been forced upon them. He says these rights that have been denied are not only constitutional but also God-given and that the United States has no right to deny them. He also creates imagery in the letter when he talks of the bombings and the mistreatment of black people in jails. It shows such sadness and injustice and builds a feeling of sympathy for himself and the people fighting alongside him. This also creates an image of the black community as the victim and the policemen and the government as the villain.
King uses ethos in the letter to refer to the ethical appeal behind his argument in the letter. King reminds the clergymen in the letter that he too is a religious leader which in turn creates a more moral and trustworthy image of himself. When talking about how he is a religious man he talks of how he acts how Jesus would want him to by acting in loving and nonviolent ways. King references respected people throughout the letter including Jesus, Thomas Jefferson, and Socrates, which further supports his ethical standpoint that he is supporting and fighting for a cause well worth fighting for. Also, by referencing these people he shows he is a well-educated black man that should be supported as such. King also writes this letter from the Birmingham jail. A setting that King knowingly knew marching in the parade without a permit would put him in. His willingness to suffer for his cause makes him much more respected and trustworthy to his readers because he is willing to pay a price for his cause.
The way that King uses logos, pathos, and ethos is one of the many reasons that his writings affect so many people. He used these methods to appeal to the clergymen and show explain his action and decision-making process. King’s words however are not too muddled for anyone to understand. His use of language made it possible for all parts of the population to understand exactly what he meant. King was able to evoke a level of understanding getting everyone thinking on the matters he was talking about.
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