Rhetorical Analysis Of Letter from Birmingham Jail: Ethos, Pathos And Logos

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Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in April of 1963 for participating in a march, which was a march fighting for the equal rights for African Americans. While confined in the Birmingham City Jail, King wrote a rebuttal letter directed towards to the clergymen of the city. Throughout the letter King manages to use ethos, pathos, and logos in an effective manure to draw in his targeted audience and express himself in the utmost respectful way. Not only did he write the letter to point out the injustices, but to also persuade people to join him in the fight for civil rights for African Americans.

One of the more moving statements using pathos in the letter was when he talked about the violence that came with the racism towards the African Americans of Birmingham, and the entire United States. “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…” (King Jr. 3) Majority of people can agree with me that this sentence can bring a deep pain to read, to be informed on how much violence they had to endure due to the racism. He used topics like this in his advantage throughout his letter to persuade people to fight on his side, assuming that no one would want to be the minority in this situation and go through such hardships.

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Martin Luther King Jr. was able to use ethos in the second paragraph of his letter, talking a little about himself as a person. “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.” (King Jr. 1) He wrote this in the letter to give himself credibility as a person and to give reason into why people should agree and or seek a compromising point with the statements following this quote. If King didn’t do this some of the audience may not take his word as serious, because they don’t know who he is as a person and what identifies him. They may think he is just another poor African American in the city of Birmingham that was arrested; however, more likely than not they had heard of him before this letter.

The logos that I thoroughly found intriguing was when he pointed out how long African Americans have waited to gain the same rights as everyone else in the United States. “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights.” (King Jr. 3) He brought this up to state that they have “done the time” and have waited ever so patiently to just have the same civil rights in America just as the other races do. African Americans were pushed to the bottom of society and was seen as the inferior race since the 1619 in the thirteen colonies and the United States. King believes that since it has been such a long time of these issues, he expects there to be a change by now, and be given the same equal rights as any other race.

Another logos statement in the letter that I found interesting is when he talked about “just” versus “unjust” laws. “One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the last to advocate the disobeying just laws.” (King Jr. 3) I found this quote interesting and how he goes on to explain the difference between the two types of laws. Asserting that it is a moral responsibility to obey just laws and a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. “A just law is a man-code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” (King Jr. 4) I find his ideology behind this fascinating, because it makes me curious on what draws the line between a just and unjust law. However, he attempts to make an argument that the reason he is in jail is due to unjust laws, and it was his “moral responsibility” to break these said laws. Breaking these laws will help build a more perfect union in the United States.

The four quotes that I brought up throughout my paper were the examples of pathos, ethos, and logos that I found most intriguing in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. History proves that he used rhetorical statements in an efficient form and persuaded a wholesome amount of people to join him in the fight for civil rights for African Americans in the United States.

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