Letter from Birmingham Jail

Topics: Rhetoric, Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail Pages: 3 (1067 words) Published: February 1, 2013
Letter from Birmingham Jail

To defend against criticism is one thing, to convince the critic is another. The latter is far more challenging, though none could say with merit that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a man unsuited for battling adversity. In 1963, King was jailed for marching without permit in the city of Birmingham. His detractors regarded his actions as, “unwise and untimely” (King 1), prompting the civil rights activist to respond with “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. In it, King utilizes the three classical appeals, biblical references, various forms of rhetoric, and a carefully selected tone to create a wonderfully worded piece that serves the purpose of arguing his side.

An argumentative piece is any writing that supports a specific set of opinions and beliefs. Often times, they utilize the three classical appeals in order to persuade the audience of said ideas. In the letter, King makes use of all three. For instance, he applies logos, the logical appeal, in the lines, “Several months ago the [Southern Christian Leadership Conference affiliates] here in Birmingham asked [me] to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program… So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here,” (King 1). In order to justify his appearance in Birmingham, something called into question by his fellow clergymen, King presents basic logic. He was there because he was invited, an inarguable fact that grants him reason for presence and serves the point of urging others to accept his arrival in Birmingham as justified. That said, this fact would fall flat if King’s position was nothing outside a man in jail.

The second classical appeal is ethos, the ethical appeal. Most often, the ethical appeal builds up the author’s appearance, making them into a figure the audience believes worthy of listening to. Though few of the modern world would question King’s words, many of his contemporaries viewed him poorly. So, in order to...
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