Letter from Birmingham Jail

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Dontay Phillips
10:45-12:10 TR
King Paper
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote one of his most famous works while confined in a jail cell. He wrote this as a response to a statement written about him by eight Alabama clergymen. In the letter King uses many methods to convey his message about things going on in Alabama. King mainly uses logos, pathos, and ethos to express his point in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

In the letter King utilized the power of human emotion to explain to the clergymen the importance of his being in Birmingham for the demonstrations. Early in the letter King stated “We were the victims of a broken promise”, quickly getting the clergymen to be empathetic to his disappointment. He explained how he had tried to negotiate without having to come to the demonstrations, but the businessmen had backed out of their agreement and surely the clergy must relate to his frustration about the broken promises. King continued, speaking more directly, when he said “In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with hopes that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure.” Here he aimed directly at the clergymen targeting their religion as well as their livelihoods. In a way he used shame to exemplify how they had played a hand in him being in Birmingham. Had they helped, had they gotten even a few to show compassion, then maybe his visit could have been avoided. Again, when King wrote: “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love,” he used guilt. Not only did he shame them for not being on top of their game, but he forgave them in the same sentence. He showed them true Christian love even when they had not done the same for him. Another example of King using pathos to express his point is when he described why it is difficult to just sit and wait for the injustice to be solved without movement. King said: "But 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; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; 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?’; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” He used vivid descriptions and personal experiences to try to get...
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