Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, is one of the most important works devoted to the struggle of the Afro-Americans for their rights. It is an extremely convincing document with bright and vivid speech. So, what was the purpose of this letter and what tools were used to achieve this purpose?
King’s letter surely has its target audience. He addresses his thoughts to the white clergymen of different confessions in Birmingham who were disturbed by his ideas and considered his and his followers’ actions as out-of-time. Being a priest, he appeals to different Christian priests as well as to the rabbis because of their unwillingness to support the movement of the black population, which disappointed Martin Luther King and encouraged him to write the letter.
So, what is the main purpose of the letter? Properly, his letter is the answer to the criticism of his actions. He claims that his actions were reasonable and deserved help. Contrary to the reproaches, he states that his followers’ activities were well timed and just, and injustice is demanded to wait, when the matter is in the liberation of human being. When law is unjust, it is unjustly to keep within this law. Also, he claims that tensions, created by their actions do not promote the violence, but create a possibility of further peaceful negotiation.
Two sets of arguments can be seen in his letter - based on morality and sense of justice, and based on rational reasoning. In his ethic argumentation, he reminds about years-long oppression and humiliation of the black population, cruelty of the police, despite the peaceful character of their demonstration. Also, he claims that justice cannot be delayed, because it can destroy the idea of justice. Regarding the rational arguments, the main one is that black people are not guilty of possible violence, but those who support the segregation and that oppression of the peaceful movement can provoke the violence.
King’s letter has also the wider audience throughout the USA. It can be addressed be black people as well as white, both politicians and ordinary citizens, and, most of all, to moderate white Americans. The main idea is that peaceful struggle of the black people for their rights is just, that tension provoked by his actions is not an evil, but rather reveals the symptoms of the social illness and shows the possibility to obtain justice. To reply the accusation of extremism against him, Martin Luther claims that Church has the similar position to preserve its role and influence.
To prove his point of view he uses tropology, which makes his argumentation vivid and convincing. King compares necessity of some tension for social progress with the pain while curing deceases. Speaking about his extremism, he compares his position with the position of Christ, who, as he clams, was also an extremist and struggled for high aims. Describing the first Christians’ activity (and opposing their activity to moderate position of contemporary Christians) he compares their extremism with the extremism of his followers, showing that the struggle for the truth often was named as extremism. References to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln make his words convincing and valuable to every American.
In his letter, Martin Luther King uses facts and belief system skillfully. He gives facts speaking about the history of oppression of the black people, describing the cruelty of the police with the purpose to describe the picture of injustice. At the same time, he appeals to the belief system and religious and human values while speaking about Christianity and democratic ideas.