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Letter from Birmingham Jail Essay

Letter From Birmingham City Jail: An Appeal of Logic, Emotions, and Personal Conviction In persuasive essays, authors attempt to help their readers consider a point by using a variety of techniques to present their arguments. To captivate a reader’s attention in an appealing way, they offer logical reasoning, emotional testimonies, and their own personal convictions to present different arguments in favor of their platform. These three phenomena, known as logos, pathos, and ethos, are valuable tools in any writer’s work.

In “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes to the clergymen as an argument supporting civil disobedience, asserting his mission to end segregation through a series of peaceful protests. In order to inspire his captive audience, Martin Luther King effectively uses ethos, pathos, and logos throughout the letter to reinforce his persuasive appeals. One way authors present their arguments is through a series of logical appeals and reasoning, which is partly what “Letter From Birmingham City Jail” aims to do.

This concept, called logos, is the presentation of different key ideas. From the opening of his letter, King clearly states his objective, “To try and answer [the clergy’s] statements” regarding his “unwise and untimely” protests (King 205). However, to merely state his arguments is not enough. Reading the World explains, “while evidence provides the basis for an argument’s support, how we apply logic to that evidence is part of how we make that argument effective” (Austin 597). To justify reasons by explaining their motives is key to persuasion.

What exactly is King’s objective in organizing silent protests? He explains: “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice… I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace…we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with” (King 209). King justifies protests against segregation by arguing that white city officials do not recognize the connection between social justice and law and order. He wants them to make the association and realize segregation in the south is the true source of racial tension. Once segregation laws become lifted, such rigidity would be relieved. In sum, ethos, pathos, and logos are all necessary and equally important criteria in composing a persuasive letter or document.

In utilizing the three, Martin Luther King is able to present a logical argument in favor of desegregation backed with emotional support in a professional format. “Letter to Birmingham City Jail” was a significantly influential piece of writing during the Civil Rights Movement and drew a substantial amount of awareness towards advancement in racial equality. Had King not made use of all three, his letter may not have been as effective, or might have never contributed to the end of segregation as we know it.


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