Martin Luther King Jr. the most visible activist during the civil rights movement is one of the most well-known speakers and writers. Throughout the entirety of his life, he spoke up about the injustices that African American’s faced. One of his more famous pieces of works “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a letter he wrote while imprisoned. He wrote to the government officials in Birmingham about the racial bias in the government. Martin Luther King Jr. thoroughly uses rhetoric in his letter so that government officials understand the racial injustices that they practice.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” has a very clear rhetorical goal which is to gain support from its readers and sheds light on non-violent civil disobedience. King starts off the letter by responding to the clergymen who called his actions “unwise and untimely”. He states that he usually doesn’t respond to the criticism that he receives but this stood out to him because he believes they are “men of genuine good will”.
He then starts to explain why he is in Birmingham. During this explanation, he uses allusions from the bible. This is a rhetorical situation because King uses his ethos as the president of the SCLC. He doesn’t outright claim that he is the highest authority on Christianity, but he uses his Christianity to relate and prove his point to the other clergymen. He argues that he and those who are fighting with him are here to respond to the call for aid and “carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own hometown”.
Using his authority and character as a minister to his advantage while writing to other men of the church.
After explaining why he was in Birmingham he starts to explain why the civil rights movement has to happen now. He explains that African Americans have always had wait for justice. He writes that if white people fully understood the oppression that African Americans were facing that they would be supportive. While others are calling for all people to follow all laws King argues that certain laws that have no reason for existing. He reminds the audience that many injustices have been legal especially in Nazi Germany and that justice has come from people breaking laws. By using Nazi Germany as an example King is using logic to dispel the thought of everyone has to follow the laws to get justice. King is disappointed in the white people who agree with desegregation but don’t participate in the fight for justice. Justice doesn’t come from just waiting but action. King is also disappointed in the church which is supposed to practice love and acceptance of all. However, instead of writing about his disappointment in the church, he writes about the white people who have acted and worked for justice. He hopes that the church will begin to participate in the work towards justice.
King writes about how he knows that the civil rights movement will triumph because Christianity was on their side. He writes how African Americans will not be held back, he says that if they can survive slavery that they can survive anything. He then asks why the police are being celebrated for their actions, but not the protesters. He describes the actual behavior of the police officer. He wants the clergymen to know that the real heroes of the civil rights movement are going to get the respect they deserve one day. King ends the paper in a poetic manner hoping that his letter is well received and that he and the clergymen can meet soon. King’s last sentence in the letter wishes for a nation of brotherhood.
Dr. King was one of the most influential men of his time. He used rhetoric throughout all of his writings and speeches. Using the rhetorical triangle, knowing who his audience is, and using Christian allusions in this letter allows for a well-formulated letter which helps him persuade the clergymen that he is addressing in the letter. Using his character and Christian authority as a minister he explains why he and others are fighting for racial justice and not just waiting for it.