In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. forms a rational and well grounded argument for direct action, non-violent civil rights campaigning in the specific context of the open letter “A Call for Unity. ” Through both form and function, Dr. King fleshed out the reasons for his approach with the hope that by shedding light on his tactics, the clergymen and their followers would no longer remain silent companions of segregation.
This brief essay will outline some of those notable explicit examples by discussing how the rhetorical style and physical evidence provided Dr. King’s letter with a vital sense of urgency. This open response letter speaks directly to his critics in a language that is calm and exacting. He spares no detail and tackles each criticism with the hopes of (re)negotiating the terms on which direct action non-violent campaigns are publicly perceived. Dr. King initially responds to the charge that they were ‘outsiders coming in’ to Birmingham and did not have a personal reason to demonstrate there.
He responds to this criticism through a discussion and import of the inter-relatedness of the racial situation in America, or what he more eloquently states, “The inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. ” By stressing the fact that the racial climate affects everyone, both directly and indirectly, Dr. King is rallying his argument around the basis of common brotherhood and unity which directly responds to the title of the clergymen’s letter, “A Call for Unity.
” In this way, he indicted the silent majority for being accomplices to the factors that led up to the demonstration, while the clergymen were unsuccessfully trying to typecast the demonstrators and the demonstration as being an extremist approach that would lead to violence. Dr. King answered this call by stating the four steps to non-violent campaigning, an approach that aimed to highlight tension with the ultimate goal of creating dialogue rather than monologue. Dr.
King offers another striking defense of his philosophy when he moves on to the discussion of timing and wisdom. The clergymen were upset that the demonstration was taking place so quickly after the city of Birmingham elected Mayor Boutwell. They argued that the demonstrations did not offer enough time for the new mayor to initiate civil rights policies. However, Dr. King noted that the Civil Rights movement, not only in Birmingham, but across the country, had already waited over 340 years to gain their natural rights promised to them by the Constitution.
He cites the fact that prior negotiations had only led to further disappointment and broken promises on the part of the white city government who had agreed to take down segregationist signs throughout the city. He places this argument in the context of negative versus positive peace, where negative peace is the absence of tension and positive peace is the presence of justice. Dr. King was fighting for positive peace in the name of love and God, a language the clergymen were familiar with but had not applied to their everyday teachings.
Ultimately, Dr. King deconstructed the clergymen’s letter down to an ideological and fear-based argument that aimed to maintain the status quo. Perhaps his critique of the white majority and the silence of the Christian church was his most heartfelt and scathing critique and that caused him the greatest disappointment. Despite his disagreement with the clergymen, Dr. King offered a immanent defense of his philosophy that effectively opened the way for further direct action, non-violent civil rights campaigning.