Martin Luther Jr. wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” after an unjust proposal made by white clergymen.
The clergymen were against King’s actions of nonviolent protests in Birmingham. King replied by participating in a peaceful protest against segregation in public places such as restaurants and public bathrooms and the need for peaceful disobedience. He was soon arrested for this. The main claim of this letter is to address the claims about his arrest by the eight clergymen and to promote the need for nonviolent protests. He disproves the clergymen’s arguments against nonviolent protests.
Dr. King’s responses are very detailed, giving a compelling point of view. This letter is directed towards the audience of white middle-class citizens who he refers to as the “white moderates”. His counterargument effectively uses logical evinces and good motives to present his arguments to the clergymen. To begin, he defends his reason for equal rights.
King explains exactly which steps are needed in a nonviolent way. His most effective skill is being able to present his argument in a non-attacking format. King disagrees with the clergymen and questions their reasoning. On page 4, he writes, “But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion?” In this statement, Dr. King is stating that violence does not form from the people that are innocent such as the person who is robbed. Instead, it forms from the evil outside of the people that are innocent.
Thus, the only method to stop the violence is not by disapproving peaceful fights, but instead by “protecting the robbed and punishing the robber.” This means to protect those people that are treated unfairly and punish those who initiate the treatment. Therefore, a peaceful protest is needed. Moreover, King compares himself to the Apostle Paul which is a use of pathos. St.
Paul was summoned to spread the word of God just like how King believed that he was summoned to spread truth only at Birmingham. Similarly, Paul left his hometown to spread the word of God around the Greco-Roman world just like how King left his hometown to spread words of freedom at Birmingham. Secondly, Paul was imprisoned for being a Christian while King was imprisoned after breaking laws. From Paul’s cell, he wrote copious amounts of letters praising Christ while King wrote this specific letter praising non-violent methods. This analogy King makes is a very powerful method for supporting his claim.
King’s purpose was to serve the reasons for freedom because of the violations of the Supreme Court against segregation. On page 1, King writes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” What he is saying here is that we cannot separate from everyone else in the world. Though King is in Atlanta, it does not mean that the things happening in Birmingham do not affect him.
If injustice happens in one place, we will put everyone around us in danger. This makes people think it is alright to act unjustly towards other people. This behavior will spread to more places and comes to threaten our entire society.