Letter from Birmingham Jail

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“Letter from Birmingham City Jail” – King

Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was written in response to a letter directed at him on April 12, 1963 by a group of clergymen. His response was composed under difficult circumstances, in a jail cell with limited paper. In fact, he began the composition of this address on the margins of a newspaper and small scraps of paper. He was thrown in jail for, in the words of the clergymen, participating in and leading “unwise and untimely” demonstrations in the city of Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement. His lengthy response uses logical validity and rhetorical strategies to appeal to the people of the South and express his views on segregation and the direction it must take to promote equality among all people.

The “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was written on April 16, 1963, just four days after the eight clergymen addressed King in their letter. King was disappointed in the clergymen, whom he wished would be supportive of his cause. He thought these people of religion would see the unjust actions and lack of equality in the region. As he writes his response he bases his argument on the Bible, utilizing both the Old and New Testaments to appeal to these men of faith. The propositions he supports are that segregation is unjust in God’s eyes, and that disobedience to unjust laws is, at times, required to uphold the virtues and values of Christianity. Martin Luther King, who was the founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), used the letter to compose one of the most influential arguments for civil disobedience in American history. To counter the claim that the actions taken were “unwise and untimely”, King points out that the new administration that was supposed to bring about equality was just as devoted to segregation as the old administration. He claims that the new administration had plenty of time to act and had made no progress, so therefore the...
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