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Letter From a Birmingham Jail Essay

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It was back in the summer of 1963 when racism against African Americans racist terror was fiercest and at its peak in Birmingham, then dubbed as Bombingham by some locals. As the face of civil activism, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was arrested while on the forefront of peaceful anti-segregation march. This letter was part of the stand which was branded as the Civil Rights Movement. Among the actions taken by the Civil Rights Movement included marches, bus boycotts, sit-ins and other kinds of demonstrations, all conducted in a non-violent form.

Among his many famous pieces, The Birmingham letter was to be one of Martin Luther King’s powerful piece. While confined in jail, it is when he produced the extraordinary document. The Jim Crow’s administration never saw it coming. Martin Luther prudently makes use of ethos, pathos, and logos in combination with a direct argumentative plan when reinforcing his claims.


The letter from Birmingham jail was written in response to the clergymen’s accusations on King and his people saying their action was “unjust and ill-informed”. It is in this letter where he strongly shows the critics why he is right while they are wrong.


King precisely strengthens his views by using ethos in his “mission critical letter”.

  • In the first paragraph, he refers to his oppressors as men of goodwill which articulates his respect for the administration. Additionally, he refers to them as,” My Dear Fellow Clergymen”. By so doing, he already equates himself with his critics. King proceeds to establish his credibility by mentioning, “I have the honor of serving as president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference……” (King, 2018).
  • He also brings to their knowledge about his invitation to Birmingham via the conference’s partner. By providing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference operations and the numerous affiliates, he further builds its ethos.
  • Throughout the write-up, King portrays himself as a virtuous and holy being through his vast bible quotes. “…just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown.”(Rieder,2013).
  • He also displays his wisdom while setting up his credibility by continually referring to great individuals in the face of history such as Socrates, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Buber among many others.

He depicts a considerable knowledge of laws. He reiterates on the critical issue which is justice which is by consistently being delayed on the colored citizens. In his opinion, he cites justice as a God-given right, and it is being denied to him and his people. This illustration prompts him to quote other great leaders and philosophers such as

  • Augustine
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Paul Tillich.

He justifies his opinion by the use of relevant court cases and situations in history. From this, the eight clergymen have a different viewpoint of understanding the King’s heated argument and from where it sprouts.


Martin Luther King displays his prowess to capture the and engage his audience by involving them in the letter. He lets the readers imagine being in a similar situation like his. By doing this, he taps on their emotional switch and thus knows the information he relays onboard will not be taken lightly. Though used minimally, King lays pathos in a middle-placed paragraph. He probably uses the phrase, “if you have one shot at something, give it the best”. By putting the picture of a basic family structure (your mother, sister, your father, your brother, and sister) being subjected to mistreatment, rough handling and killing he makes the letter very emotional.

Kings second illustration is when he brings the issue of lacking definite response to your child when they inquire why they cannot visit a public amusement park which has been advertised on Tv. It is beyond reasonable doubt something ironic. He tries to show the bewildered look that a kid receives on the revelation that they could not do things done by other kids. The innocence of a young kid is being taken hostage as seen from the example.

“Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”, this rhetorical question by a young kid as illustrated by King in his letter (King, 2018). This specific illustration indicates how segregation is slowly but steadily taking shape in young children.


Dr. Martin Luther, all through the letter uses logos to deepen his message.  He addresses the issue of justice, clearly outlining how they both mean. It is from his definition that he highlights that the segregation statutes are legal but unjust since they bring a sense of inferiority to the negros. He proceeds to mention a case of the clergymen commending the police for their well-done work in handling the demonstrators. King agrees that the police were right but then contrasts on why they were at good at work – handling peaceful demonstrators who were against the unjust segregation laws. Likewise, he uses a Hitler analogy on how he was doing legal things which were never just to the Jews.

The readers will have a reflection of their action which might speed up change. King lays down his persuasive illustrations. Furthermore, he disproves the church’s position on the whole issue of segregation and further states his disappointment with the church. He argues that church leaders should lead in values and morals, whether lawful or not. He adds that church should act as a bridge between the society and the administration like seen in the past centuries when faith was so loud (Christians were God-intoxicated).

His actions are also deemed as those of an extremist. He once again dives into his deep pool of wisdom by stating his content instead of dissatisfaction with being considered as an extremist. He compares himself with some extremists such as

  • Jesus
  • Thomas Jefferson.
  • Amos
  • John Bunyan
  • Abraham Lincoln

Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” (King, 2018). He puts across that being an extremist for good is morally right. He states his joy in being quoted as an extremist in civil justice in the future.

As part of his summary, he requests for God’s forgiveness in any case of over-statement while making his claims. He also seeks forgiveness if in his letter there is an understatement of truth.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a genius in linguistics from how he articulates his issues on the famous Letter from Birmingham jail. He makes use of ethos, pathos, and logos to speak his message to the leader. He outlines a point with the ethos and later uses pathos to support it. Once in a while, he engages the readers emotionally and mentally. The civil rights movement was also on the spotlight especially when he sought to inform the clergymen on the topic of justice and how it was being delayed (Rieder,2013).



Rieder, J. (2013). Gospel of freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from Birmingham Jail and the struggle that changed a nation.

King, M. L. (2018). Why we can’t wait.

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Letter From a Birmingham Jail Essay. (2018, Oct 31). Retrieved from

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