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Martin Luther King Jr,s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Critical Analysis - Essay Example

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Martin Luther King Jr,’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” was written on 16 April, 1963, during his solitary confinement in a Birmingham prison. King was arrested on 12 April for organizing the anti-segregationist protests in Birmingham with a series of meetings, sit-ins, trade boycotts and marches…
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Martin Luther King Jr,s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Critical Analysis
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Martin Luther King Jr,s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Critical Analysis

King attempts to persuade his readers that his position is valid. King defends his stand in the Birmingham Campaign by making skilful use of the rhetorical techniques of ethos, logos and pathos. King begins his letter by using the persuasive technique of ethos to establish his authority and his credentials. He asserts his position as the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which is affiliated with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). By categorically stating, “(I) am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here,” (King, 6), King makes it clear that his presence in Birmingham is at the express invitation of the ACMHR, and is eminently justified. He establishes his credibility as a spokesman for the protestors, and his right to participate in the campaign. King effectively foils his critics’ bid to depict him as an outsider. By acknowledging his critics to be “men of genuine goodwill” (King, 6), and demonstrating his willingness to give their views patient consideration, King enhances his own good-will and position as a fair-minded person. King emphasizes the common ground held by him and his critics. By addressing his letter to his “Dear fellow clergyman,” King emphasizes their shared religious calling. His repeated allusions to Christian belief and personalities, including his references to the Apostles and Christ, serve to reiterate his commitment to the church and vouch for his good moral character. He categorically states that his primary identity is that of “a minister of the gospel, who loves the church” (King, 13). Again, he declares that he is “the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers” (King, 14). King unequivocally tells his critics that he is one of them. Having established his credentials through ethos, King goes on to use logos to convince his readers as to the reasonableness of his stand. His defense of direct-action is a remarkable study in logic. First, King justifies his form of protest by arguing that “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action” (King, 7). He then takes up each of these steps in turn and provides evidence to support his direct-action program. First, he calls attention to the fact that “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States” (King, 7). Second, he details the failed negotiation process. Thirdly, he gives an account of the preparation for non-violent protest. Finally, he justifies direct action, by eloquently describing it as “the need for nonviolent gadflies” to goad the authorities to negotiation (King, 8). Again, King logically supports his defiance of the laws by distinguishing between “two types of laws: just and unjust” (King, 9). He cleverly equates the segregation statute with unjust laws and puts the moral law of the Church above it. This effectively absolves him of any transgression of the law. King links his civil disobedience to that of the Christian martyrs, to Socrates, the American fight for independence and the anti-Gestapo resistance. These analogies support his logic and enable King to defend his argument. There can be no doubt that King is a past master in ... Read More
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