Term Paper: Martin Luther King Letter From Birmingham Jail

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English Literature

Martin Luther King: Letter from Birmingham Jail

After an unsuccessful campaign in Albany, Georgia, in the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference planned a major nonviolent campaign in Birmingham, Alabama. King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Wyatt Walker, and other coordinators sent hundreds of protestors, including young children, across Birmingham. Headstrong city officials ordered police to let loose snarling dogs on the demonstrators and sent firefighters to wash them down the streets with fire hoses. Millions of Americans were shocked when they witnessed these events on television. Hundreds of marchers were arrested, and on Easter Sunday King himself was put into jail. At the beginning in the campaign eight clergy in Birmingham published a statement in the Birmingham Post Herald that called for racial harmony and an end to the demonstrations, which the clergy believed unwise, untimely, and extreme. While critical of the function played by outsiders, they aimed their statement to the white and Negro citizenry of Birmingham (Letter From Birmingham Jail, 2010).

The achievement of Martin Luther King's non-violent movement against segregation and injustice in the American south is due to his visionary and inspirational eloquence. While in jail for leading anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, King wrote a letter arguing that individuals have the moral duty to defy unjust laws (Martin Luther King Speeches, 2009). Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was written in response to "A Call for Unity" that was written by eight white clergymen. His motivation for writing the letter was the clergymen's unjust proposals and the letter allowed him to present his rebuttal. Martin Luther King Jr. successfully crafted his counter argument by first directly addressing his audience, the clergymen, and then using logos, pathos, and ethos to disprove his opponent's statements and present his own viewpoint (Jones, 2008).

After announcing the general purpose of his letter, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the clergymen to set up his rational for a counterargument. He first laid a foundation for his counterargument by speaking to a flaw in his opponent's argument. This straight statement then takes a turn as he slowly develops the notion that the demonstrations were expected and essential. By utilizing key phrases like even more unfortunate and no alternative, King was able to stress that there was absolutely nothing else that the Negro population in Birmingham could have done at the time. After developing this compelling statement, King then proceeded into his logical argument concerning the necessary steps of any nonviolent campaign. King's analysis of the reasons and underlying conflicts that were fueling the unrest among blacks and whites in Birmingham utilized symbols. He explained the reality of an injustice, which was the intense segregation that was taking place in Birmingham. By using logical argument that was ordered and sequential, King appealed to an educated person's thoughts and logic (Jones, 2008).

Martin Luther King Jr. first identified a portion of his opponent's argument and slowly picked it apart. He accomplished this by focusing on the word tension. Through a comparison of violent tension, which is undesired, and nonviolent tension, which is positive, he gradually established the concept that the constructive, nonviolent tension would help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. King used outstanding word choice, such as dark depths and majestic heights, to exactly present his point-of-view. He then followed it up with a statement that not only used logical reasoning to recognize the necessity for negotiation, but also utilized pathos to produce feelings of sympathy and remorse. The tragic effort expressed how emotionally powerful the past years had been for Negros and their inability to have a say in the conversation. There was also a logical plea present because he explicitly stated the purpose of their direct-action program, which is to compel an open door negotiation with both sides having authority. He was attempting to create the dialogue through use of logos but also incorporated word choice and pathos into it as well (Jones, 2008).

While he used a combination of logos and pathos to explain why a compromise was necessary, Martin Luther King Jr. utilized a mixture of ethos and logos to follow his direct statement towards his audience concerning the compliance with laws, or lack thereof. He initially identifies the clergymen's claim about how they express a great deal of anxiety over their willingness to break laws. This then leapt into a discussion about morals and the types of laws that there were - just and unjust. By rationally breaking down the types of laws that existed and using reason to depict situations when laws could and should be broken, King was basically guiding the audience through his rationalization. His strict moral devotion convinced the reader that he was trustworthy and honest. His morality helped him to establish ethos because it made him a more trustworthy leader with honor. This allowed him to lead into his more logical counter argument as he connected segregation to unfair laws. By generating a connection between unjust laws and segregation, he presented his viewpoint in such a way that it was almost undeniable and hard to resist. It allowed him to lead into his statement that segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unstable, it is morally wrong and appalling. His use of logical appeal to make his counter argument after expressly addressing the clergymen is extremely effective, especially coupled with ethical appeal (Jones, 2008).

In the route of the using precise rhetorical strategies such as logos, pathos, and ethos, Martin Luther King Jr. successfully challenged the clergymen's case. His success was due to his unique approach of directly addressing his audience, the clergymen, in order to create the basis of his argument. King was able to gradually pick apart and destroy his opponent's claims. This effective method permitted King to present his rebuttal with more power and passion and thus achieve his goal of justifying the reasons for nonviolent protests against segregation (Jones, 2008).

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people around the world who have taken part in nonviolent political action. It is obvious that there is substantial debate about the exact meaning of nonviolence. For some, nonviolent feats are an expedient technique for dealing with conflict or bringing about social change; for others, nonviolence is a moral imperative or even a way of life (Weber and Burrowes, n.d).

Well known examples of the use of a non-violence approach by great leaders are Mahatma Gandhi leading a decades-long nonviolent struggle against British rule in India, which eventually helped India win its independence in 1947. Cesar Chavez campaigns of nonviolence in the 1960s to protest the treatment of farm workers in California (Burstein and Shek, 2005). The 1989, in Czechoslovakia "The Velvet Revolution" took place that saw the overthrow of the Communist government. This has been considered to be one of the most important examples of the largely nonviolent Revolutions of 1989 (the Velvet Revolution, 1997). More recently it can be seen in the nonviolent campaigns of Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia who were able to attain peace after a 14-year civil war. The women's efforts succeeded, and a peace accord was signed in the summer of 2003, leading to UN-supervised disarmament beginning in the winter of 2003-04 and finally to the election of Africa's first woman president in January 2006 (Peace building alum talk's practical app of nonviolence, 2009).

I agree with the use of non-violence as an approach to solving issues. In my opinion there is enough violence in the world as it is without creating it on purpose. There are many reasons that can be offered for the use of nonviolence. It is a weapon that is available to everyone,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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