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It is clear, then, that rhetorical study, in its strict sense, is concerned with the modes of persuasion. Persuasion is clearly a sort of demonstration, since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been demonstrated. According to Aristotles Rhetoric, rhetoric modes of persuasion are based on three appeals: logical, ethical, and emotional. These appeals will be used to analyze two very controversial letters from the civil rights movement era. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama, a local newspaper published The Letter from the Eight White Clergymen in criticism of the direct-action, non-violent demonstrations by Martin Luther King and the African-American community.
Also, the clergymen charged Dr. King as being an outsider and stated that the demonstrations in Birmingham were unwise and untimely. To defend himself and the demonstrations, Dr. Martin Luther king wrote a response to the clergymen in which he justifies the need for his presence in the civil rights movement in Birmingham and explains the necessity of the demonstrations.
When compared, Dr. Kings arguments are more convincing and effective than those of the clergymen because he displays a greater ability to utilize the logical, ethical, and emotional appeals throughout his letter.
Dr. Kings arguments are effective because they are based on the logical appeal. However, the clergymen fail to express the same logic: However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders (271). The clergymen falsely imply that Martin Luther king is an outsider.
In actuality, Dr King is an insider because he was invited into Birmingham and his statement is based on fact and logic: I have the honor of serving as the president of the Southern Christian Leadership conference I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here (272-273).
Therefore, because the clergymen fail to address Dr. Kings presence in Birmingham correctly, Martin Luther Kings argument is more convincing. Logically, because he establishes that he is an insider, Dr. King effectively addresses the fact that the clergymen do not agree with Negro Leaders. The clergymen write: We agree rather with certain local Negro Leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation (271). There is no way that the clergymen can agree with local Negro Leadership because Dr. King is a local Negro Leader and he helps with demonstrations instead of negotiating. Thus, Dr. King successfully refutes the clergymens saying that he is an outsider and their agreement with Negro Leaders because he establishes himself as an insider. Therefore, his argument is more convincing because he accomplishes, based on logic, two things while the clergymen accomplish nothing.
Dr. King utilizes convincing ethical arguments in his letter in order to demonstrate that he is a credible source of information as well as a good person while proving that the clergymen falsify information and discredit their own arguments: We commend the law enforcement officials, in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled (271). If the clergymen were in the same demonstrations as Dr. King, they would know that the police were the ones that actually caused the violence and that the Negro demonstrations were non-violent. I doubt if you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes If you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys (285).
Through this, Dr. King discredits the Clergymen because he knows that they were not there to see for themselves the cruel treatment of Negro demonstrators and therefore, have no authority to commend the police or accuse the demonstrations of being violent. In addition to that strategy, Martin Luther King demonstrates his credibility as a way of persuading the readers that he is a moral person: If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me (285). Since Dr. King rightfully discredits the clergymen in front of the reader using an ethical appeal and while appearing humble in the process, his arguments, again, accomplish two things as well as antagonize the reader against the clergymen.
Dr. King paints a very emotional appeal in his arguments in order to establish the readers sympathy. Unlike Martin Luther King, the clergymen have a very direct and non-emotional style of writing: We strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully in the courts and in the negotiations among local leaders (271). The clergymen present the reader with a very monotone argument which does not compel the reader to feel any emotion. Their argument is a very subtle way of telling the Negro community to wait for justice. Dr. King, on the other hand, is an emotional writer. He responds in the following way: Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, Wait But when you have seen vicious mobs lunch your mothers and fathers at will when you see the vast majority of you twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty when you are humiliated day in and day out when your first name becomes nigger then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait (276). Dr. King is a master in portraying a vivid emotional appeal. He uses metaphors to emphasize his points and is not afraid to state the sad truth no matter how horrible it is. This really drives the reader to compassion for and understanding of the Negro community in a whitedominated society.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a very influential and powerful writer. In his letter from Birmingham Jail, he responds with knowledge and wisdom, leaving no stone unturned. The locations of the above passages were not accidental. They were carefully placed out in order to achieve the desired effect based on Dr. Kings logic. Moreover, his tone was well thought out. He presented himself assertively and peacefully. I learned that in order to be persuade many people, Martin Luther King had to be a brilliant writer and a razor-sharp politician. I know that Dr. King was a major contributor to the civil rights movement. He has advocated not only for desegregation of races but for the open-mindedness of people all over the world. His essay is still powerful today because it serves as a classroom example of rhetorical style of writing. Likewise and sadly, Racism still exists today in our society.
One may look at current events for example. Some people are prejudice towards the Muslim community because of the September 11th bombing. Would it be right to segregate airports because of a handful of terrible people? My point is that we should take a moment today and capture each cultures and races unique and interesting customs, beliefs, and ways of life as well as appreciate what those different cultures have to contribute to mankind. In closing, if our society could learn from Martin Luther King to identify social problems, analyze them, and find concrete ways to fix them, the world would gradually become a better place for all of us.
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