In April of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr.
was arrested and put in Birmingham jail under the account that he was protesting without a permit. Soon after. 8 clergymen wrote a letter to him that argued why his protests should end because they promoted “hatred and violence.” In this letter, they claimed King to be an “outsider,” with intention to kindle problems and called his actions “untimely” and “unwise.” King then responded to this letter in his famous piece that came to be known as “The Letter From Birmingham Jail.
” His letter defends his non violent direct action for the aim of fighting for racial justice in the United States. King embeds the rhetorics of ethos, pathos, and logos throught his letter in order to effectively present his argument for the Civil Rights movement.
King utilizes various forms of rhetorical devices in order to strengthen his argument and increase his credibility. He employs the technique of parallism when he reveals, “…when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?” (Martin Luther King Jr.). King repeats “when you” throughout this portion in order to demonstrate the countless hardships the blacks had to endure. This use of parallelism engraves into the minds of the reader the idea of never ending hardships and the repetition emphasizes the regularity of these injustices. In addition, King makes metaphors when he observes, “twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society,” (Martin Luther King Jr.). In this, he c creates an image in the audience’s minds that shows the oppression they endure and how there is no escape by comparing to a cage. Black people are forced to observe all of the privileges that white people have, while having no way to actually achieve those privileges for themselves. Furthermore, King dehumanizes blacks and equates them to animals with no rights by explaining that they are “in an airtight cage of poverty.” King built his credibility throughout his letter by sharing many personal experiences of the injustices blacks have to endure. The audience can sympathize with him and also gain a stronger understanding of his argument through his use of parallelism and metaphors.
King appeals to the audience’s pathos throughout this letter in order to show the importance of acting now and not waiting. King creates a feeling of guilt by expressing that, “The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward a cup of coffee at a lunch counter,”(Martin Luther King Jr.). This statement should make the reader question their actions in not supporting the civil rights movement especially considering that America is supposed to be the “land of the free” but many minorities are not granted that same privelege. In his long sentence expressing the cruelty towards blacks, he appeals to pathos. For example “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…”(Martin Luther King Jr.) Reading this should fill anyone with some kind of emotion because King is giving real life examples for the audience to sympathize with. King appeals to pathos throughout this entire letter in order to emphasize the need to take action now.
Lastly, King utilizes the rhetoric of logos to defend his strategy of nonviolent direct action. He incorporates many examples to logically explain why nonviolent direct action works. King begins by pointing out that, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such tension that a community…is forced to confront the issue,”(Martin Luther King Jr.). In this, he is defining the end goal of nonviolent direct action. The end goal is to bring so much attention to the issue until the oppressors finally give in. King is defending his tactic because he does not want violence that will just lead to unessecary deaths and injuries. In addition, he reveals that “[nonviolence] seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored,”(Martin Luther King Jr.). This statement logically supports his idea of nonviolence by explaining exactly how it will be succesful. If they peacefully protest for long enough, people will give in and finally start to see and understand what they are fighting for. King uses logos throughout his letter in order to defend and justify his position on nonviolent direct action.
This letter ended up being very successful in persuading its audience because just several weeks after it was made, the wheels really started to turn on the civil right movement. Just on year after the letter was created, the Civil Rights Act was made to end all segregation in 1964. King was very effective in his letter using rhetorical devices to argue his point. The Letter From Birmingham Jail sparked the Civil Rights movement by effectivley persuading the audience to understand the importance and urgency of the movement.