October 22, 2017
Rhetorical Analysis Essay of MLK’s “A Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Over the course of Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963), the author, Martin Luther King Jr, makes extended allusions to multiple philosophers, among them: Aquinas and Socrates. His comparison seems to indicate that he shares a strong relationship with them. However, the clarity with which he makes his arguments and the dedication to a single premise. This premise was King’s work devoted to a single objective: the protection of civil disobedience as a form of protest such that the Civil Rights Movement could continue in uncompromised form. Despite this singularity of purpose, the complexity of the situation meant that a more nuanced response to the statement “A Call for Unity” as published by eight Alabama Clergymen was necessary. In this way, King’s letter in fact served a fourfold purpose: to establish himself as a legitimate authority in the eyes of his audience, to show the trials of the black in America, to justify his cause, and to argue the necessity of immediate action.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter, written to the Clergymen from Birmingham Prison, he uses the rhetorical appeal of ethos to establish his credibility on the subject of racial discrimination and injustice. He starts off the letter with “My Dear Fellow Clergymen”. By him saying this, he is putting himself on the same “level” as the clergymen, sending the message that he is no less than them and they are no better than him. He then goes on to say, “I am here because I have organizational ties here. But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here”. He is telling the audience that he has credibility on the matter of injustice, not because he is the recipient of white privilege, but because he is well educated on the subject, and has witnessed injustice through his own eyes. King says, “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently, we share staff, educational, and financial resources with our affiliates.” The purpose for the introduction is to establish his credibility as a member of the United States of America. He is proving to them that he contains just as much intellect on the subject involving injustice and racial discrimination, if not more. Martin Luther King Jr. then appeals to pathos by showing the trials his people have gone through. He does this by using lines such as, “When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim.”, and “when you have seen hate-filled policeman curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters.” In the following example, he is using incendiary language like “vicious...