Analysis of Martin Luther King's “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Topics: African American, Martin Luther King, Jr., Southern United States Pages: 3 (986 words) Published: December 5, 2010
Martin Luther King Jr, an civil rights activist, fought for the rights of African Americans in 1963. King organized various non-violent demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama that resulted in his arrest. While in jail, King received a letter from eight Alabama clergyman explaining their distress and opposition to King and his followers actions. This letter occasioned his reply and caused King to write a persuasive letter justifying his actions and presence in Birmingham. Although King’s reply was addressed to the Alabama clergyman, its target audience was the “white moderate”. King understood that if he gained support from the average, indifferent white American that the civil rights movement would reach it’s goals much faster. In his letter King effectively manipulates language to strengthen his counter argument against the complaints of the clergyman and successfully address the “white moderate”.

In the letter King automatically sets an urgent but non-aggressive tone. It benefits King to present the argument in an ethical non-blaming manner. When writing his letter, King considered his target audience. If he had written in an attacking, aggressive manner the purpose of his essay would have been lost. The clergyman and “white moderate” would feel attacked and not want to support King’s cause. The use of eloquent language and not placing blame on any one group of people increases the effectiveness of King’s argument greatly.

Throughout the letter King enhances his credibility by using biblical analogies to set a commonplace between himself and the clergyman and also the church-going, white southerner. King applies this rhetorical tool by stating what has happened in the past, “…just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ…”(King). King compares himself to, a prophet of the eight centaury BC, Apostle Paul. Paul left his homeland to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as, King himself left Atlanta for...
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