Every rebellion begins with a spark, and Martin Luther King Jr. knew how to form one. On April 19, 1963, he wrote a specific letter from Birmingham Jail in response to the news that was directed at him for protesting for equal rights. He strove to convey the need for a nonviolent rebellion in their community, due to the unjust treatment of blacks in 1960s Alabama. Dr. King’s letter discusses the fact of how whites were against the Civil Rights Movement. All throughout the letter, he utilizes many rhetorical devices to support his actions.
Dr. King tried to display allusion in his letter to show that he was actually innocent. In paragraph 6 he stated “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States … Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality.” He wanted to show everyone that if they didn’t do anything about their community, it would progress into an even more dangerous place for blacks.
His purpose for using this device was to bring light to the harsh reality that Negroes were seriously mistreated, and he was the only person who was willing to do or say something about it. Later, he said “We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights” (paragraph 12). This shows that King and many others were ready and willing to stand up for what they believe in.
In this letter, Martin Luther King’s use of pathos is very evident.
“My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure” (paragraph 11). This statement proved the difficulty of actually being able to perform a nonviolent movement in times like those. King also targeted the white community, trying to put them in the shoes of the Negroes by giving vivid descriptions of the trials they had witnessed. He also talks about death in his letter, which is meant to put his losses on the shoulders of his white audience by making it clear the pain that black people have had to deal with. ‘When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your brothers and sisters at whim …’
Finally, Dr. King symbolizes the effects of the civil war on the community around him. Today, the United States symbolizes how everyone in our country now has equal rights, both legal and freedom, from racial discrimination. But at times like those in the 1960s, blacks had to fight for their rights every single day. “Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws” (paragraph 13). He made this statement to prove that even though segregation was unjust and outlawed, there were many other laws that were being broken in place of that. “An unjust law is no law at all” he says, in paragraph 13.
Ultimately, Martin Luther King Jr. was just trying to gain a sense of realization from the people around him. He wanted justice for black people, and that was that. These devices are only a few of the ones that Dr. King applied. Throughout the letter, he used strong, almost unmistakable evidence to support his claims, which is only one of the reasons why this piece of writing is so important.