The Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King as an Expression of the Fight for the Equality of Man

I cannot imagine what treatment people of color would face if there had been no Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people think that the United States is the freest country in the world. However, “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor” (King 207). In the Civil Rights Movement, the black people who fought for freedom were deplored. King, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” refutes a strong opposition while he was confined in the Birmingham city jail. King’s purpose was to persuade the white moderates to help the black people to break injustice with nonviolent direct action.

He used an interesting rhetorical triangle: ethos, pathos, and logos, in order to restate to the eight white religious leaders of the South that all men are created equal.

Let me examine King’s letter to learn how his ideas inspire me to think about human rights in my country by using the rhetorical triangle. First of all, Religion right is one important part of human rights.

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Even today, many countries claim to have freedom of religion, but the range of activities of religious people is limited. As a Chinese, I see that the active religion is often banned. In the United States more than fifty years ago, as a sincere Christian, King was often regarded as an outsider who would take in trouble. However, in the first part of his letter including paragraphs 1 to 5, King began his respect to the eight white religious leaders by reflecting why he was in Birmingham.

This part would be an introduction part of the letter, and King developed his thesis by using appeals to logos.

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As an outsider who did not live in Birmingham, King needed to be there “because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here” (King 204), but the main reason is “because injustice is here” (King 204). In fact, King was there, for he was asked to be on call to engage in demonstration because some white people left the Negro community with no choice. King used Logos in order to explain that he has to come to Birmingham, and Logos let him prove that his presence was very reasonable. King was not lucky, for his activities were unpopular too; but there were at least some people who would listen to his retort at that time. How do those countries have freedom of religion if they limit range of religious people?

Secondly, since all men are created equal, why do some people spend too much time waiting for their freedom? Shifting to paragraphs 6 to 14, King became impatient and even angry to question how long they needed to wait for freedom if they did not implement nonviolent direct action. In this part, King’s mood began to change, and he gave me the strongest feeling that King appeals to emotions. Why not negotiate? Why need the demonstrations? King says, the white people break their promise repeatedly, the black people try repeatedly and they are now disappointed.

For freedom, King and his brothers and sisters had waited for a long time. King pointed out angrily that the Negro experienced lynching, insults, isolation, and discrimination, and they do not even know how to explain all this to children. King did not need any philosophy; with Pathos, he succeeded in a list of all the unfair treatment that the black people faced. Cannot blacks be angry? The black people are human, not animals! I have the same tone with King when I read this part of his letter, for it makes me remember my experience. A few days ago, I saw on the news that all the people who were born in China can own their household registration without a big fine. How freedom they give! I want to say most of the people had to pay a big fine to get household registration! What is a household registration in China?

I only can explain that you can not go to school, take a bus, find a job, open a bank account, buy a house, and get a passport if you don’t have a household registration! For the money, they limit too much freedom by using that strange small book. As King said,, we have waited for our freedom for a long time. Now the Chinese agree to give the people who they think were born illegally a household registration without a big fine. However, the true reason is nobody is able to buy their house, and their economy is going to collapse, so they want more people to have the right to buy their house. We just get back our rights, why do we need to waits? Then, can we not get our human rights because we broken laws? Move to paragraphs 15 to 22, King pointed out that “An unjust law is no law at all” (King 208). Like the first part, King appeals to logos here, but the difference is that the discussion here is what kind of laws the demonstration would break.

First, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” (King 208). Then, “Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application” (King 209). Last, “If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws” (King 210). Through the layers of logical reasoning, King stressed the legitimacy of their demonstrations. King did not say so, but I feel strongly that he asked, could a law prevent human rights? No, it cannot! Although my goals are not the same, but our feelings and views are the same. King inspires me to be angry about the household registration, the small book.

Many people could not ever own that small book because they were born illegally and broke laws. Were people born illegally? What is the meaning? Is a woman pregnant, we have to kill her fetus? Is that legal? Why not break the unjust law? It wants to kill our babies! Beyond this, I have been disappointed with Chinese government whatever they do today even though I have had hope on their change. I discovered King and me have the same feeling when I read this section of his letter. King acknowledges that he has been very disappointed with the white moderate in paragraphs 23 to 26. Logos is used the most here. King says, the white moderates agree with the black people, but they did not support black people’s actions. Do they fear the actions? “Actually, 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 211), because “Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills” (King 212). King’s purpose of using Logos is to point out the white moderates were actually behind the thought. Therefore, blacks cannot wait for freedom from whites. Unfortunately, Chinese have to wait. They cannot fight; they are forced obey unjust laws. Since we cannot act like King, we can keep our disappointment. The power would not be easy to give people freedom.

Moreover, my friends say that I am too extreme when I pointed out the disadvantage of my country; I think the real reason is that our country lacks faith. King defended his extremism for love, for justice in paragraphs 27 to 32. King here strongly refutes the view about his extremism use of appeal to authority. King said, “Was not Jesus an extremist for love… Was not Amos an extremist for justice… Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel…” I think King tried to explain the extreme of the pursuit of justice is not real extremist. On the contrary, it is persistent and insistent. King’s example is persuasive because many people believe in God in the United States. However, I cannot use the examples from bible to persuade Chinese government, for they do not have any faith, and most of my friends do not have faith too. Therefore, people pointed out the shortcomings of China are often considered extreme.

In addition, although China has restrictions on religious beliefs, there still is a lot of religion, but the religious people are only idlers whom government support. King pointed out that he was disappointed with the white Church in paragraphs 33 to 44. In this section, King appealed to the mournful emotions of the audience by expressing deep disappointment. For example, “I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” (King 215). Another example, “Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust” (King 217). The Pathos here helped King show that the church is not the original church. From other side, we can see the fact that even if the whites and blacks have a common belief, discrimination is not reduced because of the same belief.

However, King was not completely disappointed, and he appealed Ethos by saying, “We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands” (King 218). Although “…body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists” (King 216), King did not give up his belief. The Ethos here shows King’s strength and gives the readers confidence. King’s situation is similar to us. No matter what religion in China now, has been changed the original scriptures, it seems to be a club; they help people nothing.

Finally, Although many Chinese people are dissatisfied with the status quo, the authorities are ignoring it. King showed respect again to analyze the status quo and apologized for his long letter at the end. King used an emotional appeal in the last part of his letter. As a reader, I read the entire article and learned that King was an honest, kind, friendly, and well-respected man. Even though the eight white religious leaders were worthy of respect, King doubted that they had not seen the police dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes; they had not seen the police putting the Negroes in the city jail with no reason; they had not seen the police pushing and cursing old Negro women and young Negro girls; they had not seen the police slapping and kicking old Negro men and young boys, etc.

King pointed to all of these, expressed doubts, and did not directly place blame. Pathos helped King succeed in suggesting that religious leaders ignore the reality. I am different from King, and I don’t want to show too much respect to our government. They also fail to see my respect, as they could not see the child was abducted and elderly people were starved to die. They would never see and are not willing to see. In the end, King apologized for his long letter. However, King says, “I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers” (King 219).

In fact, I almost regret choosing his letter to write an analysis essay, but now I feel relaxed, for King made a joke before he closed his letter. He showed his humor. In fact, his letter inspires me to think a lot about my country. In conclusion, King used the rhetorical triangle strategy with his changing tone effectively to refute a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South on April 16, 1963. Robert Westbrook says in his article, “MLK’s Manifesto”, ”The letter was a powerful indictment of the shortcomings of timid moderation in the face of injustice, a sermon of chastisement–a shrewd, tough-minded, even militant political document.” King’s writing method is worthy of our study. I thought a lot about the human rights situation in China, for I was attracted by King’s rhetorical triangle technique. In China, there are no real freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Many of the people’s human rights are restricted. Although more and more people are dissatisfied with the status quo, but the government would not easily make concessions. From the other side, we can see that King and his brothers and sisters faced great difficulty to fight for freedom. King succeeded, but I can only pray for my country. Let us salute King in high esteem.

Works Cited

  1. King, Martin Luther. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Cohen, Samuel. New York: Boston, 2014. 203-220. Print.
  2. Westbrook, Robert. “MLK’s Manifesto.” Christian Century 130.8 (2013): 22. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 2 Feb. 2016.

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The Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King as an Expression of the Fight for the Equality of Man. (2021, Sep 21). Retrieved from

The Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King as an Expression of the Fight for the Equality of Man

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