2 March 2014
Rhetorical Essay: “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an African-American pastor, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He was born January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta Georgia and was killed April 6th, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee. The Letter from Birmingham was written on April 16, 1963. King was in Birmingham because he was president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and they were asked to help direct a nonviolent program for civil rights. The letter was a response to a letter written by clergymen who stated Martin Luther King’s actions in Birmingham Alabama where “unwise and untimely”. King started writing the letter while he was in jail for “violent protests”. In his letter, King responds to the clergymen’s claims that he had no business in Birmingham, that he was untimely and that he was an extremist. Considering he was in a jail surrounded by people who agreed with the clergymen’s letter, king was in an incredibly difficult position. He had no resources available to him, in fact he started writing this letter in the margins of a newspaper that he had in his jail cell. Nonetheless, in his response King uses rhetorical devices such as logos, pathos, ethos, metaphors and anaphors to emphasize his arguments and make clear and direct claims.
In his letter the first claim King responds to is why he was in Birmingham. He begins the letter by describing to the clergymen that he is president of the SCLC and he was invited to Birmingham because he had organizational ties there. In this paragraph King uses Logos, an appeal to logic and a way of persuading an audience by reason, to explain to the clergymen that he had to be in Birmingham during that time because at the time he was working with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (pg.2). The clergymen said in their letter that King had no business in Birmingham but king responds by listing his credentials to prove that he actually had a lot of business in Birmingham. Using logical facts was not the only way that King responded to this claim. He then begins to say that he had a duty to be in Birmingham and he compares his duty to that of Apostle Paul. Kings states “and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman World, so I am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid” (pg.2). In this excerpt King switches from logos to ethos, an appeal to ethics, and a means of convincing someone of the character or credibility of the persuader. King builds up his credibility by not only showing the readers that he knows the story of Paul, but also he can relate to him. They both have a duty to help their people and carry the gospel of freedom. Kings uses ethos and logos in this paragraph to prove to the clergymen that he is in Birmingham because it is his duty to address the injustice that is there. King also uses metaphors to prove why it is necessary for him to be in Birmingham. For example “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” (pg.4). By using this metaphor King is stating that everybody is connected, whether we’re directly connected or not, whether we are black, white, male, female or child, as humans we all share the same emotions and experiences and we are all face the same destiny. King describes that he cannot sit in his home in Atlanta when he knows that injustice and inequality is happening in a state next door. He believes that we all have the same destiny as humans and we all deserve to be treated equally. In an essence, King would go wherever injustice was, Birmingham just happened to be another stop in his journey.
In his letter King also responds to the clergymen calling him untimely. King responds to this claim...
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