King is the new Black
In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. creates a powerful response to a statement by some Alabama clergymen opposing his actions in Birmingham, Alabama. The initial explanation of why King is in Birmingham later becomes the background to the letter, justifying King’s civil disobedience and explaining the immorality of racial segregation. The letter not only addresses the issues of being arrested in an unjust manner for being an “extremist” of his approach to the protest, and the incompetence of the church, but it is also an appeal to the clergymen’s opinion from his point of view. The white clergymen stereotype King as another typical African American man that is not intelligent or important enough to be taken seriously. To prove the clergymen wrong, throughout his letter, King was able to make his argument effective by showing his intellectual writing skills using ethos, pathos, and logos to express his ideas and reasons for his actions. This allows King’s point of view to be taken seriously by the clergymen through his intellectual ability; his intellect gives him credibility.
King uses ethos to strengthen his views in the letter. Ethos is an author’s reputation, credentials, and trustworthiness in an argument. In the second paragraph, King mentions that, “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia” (King 309). Kind establishes his position as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to show his credibility to a greater extent. This demonstrates that he has high power and allegiance to a noteworthy Christian organization. King shows his position in hopes that the clergymen can read his letter seriously since he is, in fact, a president of a Christian affiliated group and the clergymen are religious men. King also shows his religious credibility by quoting Bible verses and stories. King relates his struggles to the biblical struggles of Paul; “just as the apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corner of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town” (King 309). King tries to convey to the clergymen that he is a virtuous and holy man just as Paul is. King compares himself to the Apostle Paul; Paul left his homeland to a far away place to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as, King himself left Atlanta to an unfamiliar city, Birmingham, to spread justice and equality. King uses this comparison because he knows religion could be his only common ground between the white clergymen, so he uses religion to his advantage. While establishing his virtuous and religious nature to the clergymen, he also demonstrates his wisdom. He does so by quoting from many historical figures such as Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, as well as many other well-known leaders and reformers. He compares all these historical figures to Jesus Christ and himself because of the clergymen’s accusation of King being an extremist. He says, “Was not Jesus an extremist for love … Was not Martin Luther an extremist … And Abraham Lincoln … And Thomas Jefferson” (King 317). He uses another religious figure, Jesus Christ, for the clergymen to have a better connection and understanding with King. By mentioning all these powerful historical figures and their words, it shows that King is a well-educated and well-thought man for making these intelligent and logical comparisons. He also shows a substantial knowledge of the laws. His core argument focuses on the justice, which is a God given right that he and his people were not receiving (King 312). This idea is supported through the use of religious and historical situations that are relevant to his argument. This allows the clergymen to better understand King’s argument...
Cited: King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Perspectives On Argument. Ed.
Nancy V. Wood. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2012. 308-
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