Martin Luther King Jr. ’s Persuasion in “Letter From Birmingham Jail” After being arrested and imprisoned in Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote one of his most famous works to the people of Birmingham, titled “Letter From Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963. This piece speaks of the evils of the segregation laws and how the blacks had been treated unfairly in Birmingham, in an attempt to get the white people to support the desegregation of Birmingham.
He had been imprisoned because of his participation in a civil disobedience protest, and he is arguing that, even though the white people of Birmingham see the black’s way of protesting as wrong, it is a justified way to fight back against the unjust laws. In “Letter From Birmingham Jail. ” Martin Luther King Jr. uses rhetorical strategies in order to convince the people of Birmingham that the segregation laws are unjust and that the people of Birmingham should support the African American’s acts of civil disobedience and their attempts to end segregation.
Martin Luther King Jr. ’s goal in “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is to convince the people of Birmingham that they should support civil disobedience and the eventual end to the segregation laws in Birmingham. . He approaches his argument with logic and appealing to the people of Birmingham’s emotions. He seeks to make them see the logic behind their protesting and make them feel ashamed and embarrassed by the way that they have been treating the African Americans.
He proves his authority through his explanation of his experience “as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia” (King 232), and he emphasizes the importance of addressing the situation to him when he says, “seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas”, referring to the people of Birmingham’s resistance to the civil protests that he has been leading in Birmingham (King 232).
Martin Luther King Jr. uses logical arguments in his letter in order to accomplish his goals and convince the reader that civil disobedience is the right course of action for the African Americans in Birmingham and the people of the city should support their efforts. This is shown in his letter when he states that he had come across their statements “calling [their] present activities ‘unwise and untimely’” (King 232).
In the letter he states, “You deplore the demonstrations that are currently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being” (King 233). By saying this, he is stating his disappointment that the people of Birmingham hadn’t gotten involved in the situation when the African Americans were being mistreated, but rather got involved when the protests for the unjust laws had started to interrupt their way of life.
This statement also speaks to the people, in fact, blaming them for their own problems, basically stating that if they hadn’t enforced the unjust segregation laws, then the African Americans wouldn’t have been forced to engage in the civil disobedience protests. This argument uses logic that would force the people of Birmingham to realize that the only way to stop the protests is to put an end to the segregation laws. With this reasoning Martin Luther King Jr. hopes to get the people of Birmingham to support the civil disobedience protests.
In the letter, Martin Luther King Jr. appeals to the reader’s point of view when he addresses their questions, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, ect.? Isn’t negotiation a better path? ” (King 234). After stating questions that he has been addressed with, King then affirms that he agrees with their questions and that they “are exactly right in [their] call for negotiation” (King 234). By doing this, he is showing that he isn’t participating and leading in the civil disobedience protests to be difficult, but because he has been left with no other choice.
King explained that he had tried to negotiate with the leaders of the town. In these sessions of negotiation, the merchants had agreed to take down their “humiliating racial signs” if the “leaders of the Alabama Movement agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstrations” (King 233). Though after they had negotiated this, they realized after months went by that they had been lied to, and the merchants had no intention of taking down their signs. By showing that he understands the people of Birmingham’s call for negotiation, King is bringing more credibility to himself.
King is also furthering his own argument by showing them that he had already tried to resolve the racial discrimination their way, and that is why more drastic measures are justified. Martin Luther King Jr. also seeks to further his point logically by explaining to the people of Birmingham that most places in the United States aren’t segregated to the extent that Birmingham is. He also makes a point to say Birmingham’s “ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of the country” and that “it’s unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality“ (King 233).
King also states “there have been more unsolved bombings in Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than any city in this nation” (King 233). By making the statements that no other city treats African Americans as badly as Birmingham and that the injustice that is taking place in Birmingham is a reality that everyone throughout the country is aware of, King is isolating the city of Birmingham, seeking to make them feel embarrassed that the country is aware of how they are treating the African Americans.
He is also appealing to the logical argument that since no one else is doing what the people of Birmingham are doing, it must be wrong. In addition to appealing to the people’s logic, Martin Luther King Jr. then uses pathos to help the people in Birmingham to further understand the way that African Americans had been repressed in the town. King states, It is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait.
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see the tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky… (King 236) In this section of the passage, Martin Luther King Jr. is appealing to the emotions to the people of Birmingham.
By including not only how the vicious nature of the citizens against the individual African American, but how it affects your children, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, it creates a larger feeling of empathy from the reader because no one wants to see anything harmful happen to their family members. By creating this empathy in the people of Birmingham, King is hoping to light a fire under them to help the African Americans to fight for the end of segregation and equal treatment. No one wants to think of their mothers being tortured or their children crying over something that they could never have, making the people of Birmingham question whether they way they have been treating the African Americans is moral, and that civil disobedience was a necessity in order to put an end to it.
King also appeals to the people of Birmingham’s emotions throughout the piece by using subtle wording throughout the entire letter. Some examples would be “humiliating racial signs” and the frequent use of the word “victims” (King 233). Phrases such as these have negative connotations, and by using them to refer to the situation that the African Americans had been subjected to in Birmingham, King is yet again creating a feeling of empathy within the reader. Overall, Martin Luther King Jr. makes a very compelling and persuasive argument for both the injustice of segregation, but also the justification of protests in the form of civil disobedience.
By making this argument effective, King hopes to get the people of Birmingham to support the cause and end segregation. In his letter, King uses both a logical argument and an emotional argument to get his point across to the people of Birmingham. Although “Letter From Birmingham Jail” didn’t bring an end to segregation, it did play a part in the civil disobedience, which later led to the end of segregation throughout not only Birmingham, but throughout the entire United States. Works Cited King Jr. , Martin Luther. “Letter From Birmingham Jail. ” Mercury Reader: Writing Responsibly, Communities in Conversation. Eds. Janice Neulieb, Kathleen Shine Cain, and Stephen Ruffus. New York: Pearson, 2011. 229-247. Print.