Essay On Martin Luther King Jr Letter From Birmingham Jail

Mr. Luther King's Letter From Birmingham Jail

  • Length: 408 words (1.2 double-spaced pages)
  • Rating: Excellent
Open Document

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - More ↓

"Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from Birmingham Jail, which was written in April 16, 1963, is a passionate letter that addresses and responds to the issue and criticism that a group of white clergymen had thrown at him and his pro- black American organization about his and his organization's non- violent demonstrative actions against racial prejudice and injustice among black Americans in Birmingham.

King writes the letter to defend his organization's actions and the letter is also an appeal to the people, both the white and black American society, the social, political, and religious community, and the whole of American society to encourage desegregation and encourage solidarity and equality among all Americans, with no stratifications according to racial differences. King's letter from Birmingham Jail addresses the American society, particularly the political and religious community of the American society.

Specifically, King's letter addresses three important groups in the American society: the white American political community, white American religious community, and the black American society. King addressed these communities as the primary groups wherein racial segregation is continuously proliferated (the white American political and religious community) and points much of his arguments to and for his fellow black Americans in the society.

King's main thesis in writing the Birmingham letter is that, racial segregation, or injustice to the black American society, is due to the continuous encouragement of the white American society, particularly the powerful communities in politics and religions. King defends his primary thesis all throughout the length of his letter, and the arguments that he has made to prove that his thesis is true and valid will be the focus of this rhetorical analysis.

In addressing and confronting the problem of injustices among the black Americans in the American society, particularly the violence that had happened in Birmingham, and generally, the inequality and racial prejudice happening in his American society, King argues his position by using both moral, social, and political references and logic for his arguments to be considered valid and agreeable.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Mr. Luther King's Letter From Birmingham Jail." 123HelpMe.com. 13 Mar 2018
    <http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=78017>.

LengthColor Rating 
Essay about Mr. Luther King's Letter From Birmingham Jail - "Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from Birmingham Jail, which was written in April 16, 1963, is a passionate letter that addresses and responds to the issue and criticism that a group of white clergymen had thrown at him and his pro- black American organization about his and his organization's non- violent demonstrative actions against racial prejudice and injustice among black Americans in Birmingham. King writes the letter to defend his organization's actions and the letter is also an appeal to the people, both the white and black American society, the social, political, and religious community, and the whole of American society to encourage desegregation and encourage solidarity and equal...   [tags: Letter From Birmingham Jail King Essays]408 words
(1.2 pages)
Strong Essays[preview]
Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Essay - One of the most skillfully written compositions was done in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was heading a national political movement for the recognizable equal treatment of colored people wrote a letter to his fellow clergy men while being imprisoned. In one article, he was able to address not only the clergy, but a wide, diverse audience, send his message across thoroughly, and affect millions of lives because of his purpose and the different personas he assumed....   [tags: MLK Martin Luther King Birmingham Jail]1122 words
(3.2 pages)
Strong Essays[preview]
Essay on Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail - It was change created by a human for the human, a change which made the life of others livable. During the civil rights movement in America in 1960’s various techniques were used to gain the civil rights for the black people in a series of which came the “Letter form Birmingham jail” written by Martin Luther King himself. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was a profound and persuasive written argument which captured the emotions of many people encompassing rigid life experiences, educated observances, and deeply rooted spiritual beliefs....   [tags: Civil Rights King Birmingham]1166 words
(3.3 pages)
Strong Essays[preview]
The Philosophy of Nonviolence of Dr. Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail gave the people an insight into the mind and his unwillingness to give up on his dream for better life and respect for ‘Negroes’. However, it was not just his mentality we have an insight on but also his philosophy, his mantra. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a devoted Christian and refused to use cruel, demeaning words and unnecessary violence to get his points across to the people. He fought against the injustices brought on upon the black people by the ‘white power’ in Birmingham....   [tags: Letter from a Birmingham Jail]1340 words
(3.8 pages)
Strong Essays[preview]
Essay about Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail - Rhetorical Analysis of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" In his essay "Letter from Birmingham Jail", Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. disproves the assumptions of people that believe racism is acceptable when he compares the maltreatment of blacks to the inhumane treatment of the Jews by Hitler. King establishes a relationship with his audience by connecting on a level that is larger than the exploitation of African American's rights. He forces his readers to think about the execution of millions of Jews that was ordered by Hitler....   [tags: Martin Luther King Jr]
:: 1 Works Cited
1225 words
(3.5 pages)
Strong Essays[preview]
Martin Luther King: Letter from Birmingham Jail Essay - Martin Luther King: Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin L. King in Birmingham In 1963, living in Birmingham, Alabama was tough to live in due to how segregated it was. Everything from businesses, diners, libraries, churches, and even bathrooms were segregated. Martin L. King went to Birmingham because he was called by affiliates from the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights contacted him in aiding them on a nonviolent direct action program. He wanted to help because of the injustices there and was said that anything unjust in Birmingham ultimately affects everyone....   [tags: civil rights, activists, segregation]
:: 5 Works Cited
1437 words
(4.1 pages)
Powerful Essays[preview]
Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail Essay - Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is an excellent example of an effective argument; it was written in response to an editorial addressing the issue of Negro demonstrations and segregation in Alabama at the time. He writes in a way that makes his argument approachable; he is not attacking his opposition, which consists of eight Alabama clergymen who wrote the editorial. This is illustrated in his opening sentence: “My dear Fellow Clergymen” (464). King was an activist for civil rights during this time, and came to Alabama to help out his fellow brothers that were facing opposition....   [tags: Martin Luther King Letter Jail essays]
:: 1 Works Cited
1865 words
(5.3 pages)
Strong Essays[preview]
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From a Birmingham Jail Essay - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” In King’s essay, “Letter From Birmingham Jail”, King brilliantly employs the use of several rhetorical strategies that are pivotal in successfully influencing critics of his philosophical views on civil disobedience. King’s eloquent appeal to the logical, emotional, and most notably, moral and spiritual side of his audience, serves to make “Letter From Birmingham Jail” one of the most moving and persuasive literary pieces of the 20th century....   [tags: Letter From Birmingham Jail Essays civil rights]
:: 3 Works Cited
1090 words
(3.1 pages)
Strong Essays[preview]
A Discussion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham City Jail - A Discussion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham City Jail Martin Luther King Jr. discusses the advantages and purposes for his theory of nonviolent direct action in his Letter From Birmingham City Jail. He shows four basic steps that must be taken to achieve nonviolent action. They include 1) collection of facts to determine whether injustices are alive; 2) negotiation; 3) self-purification; and 4) direct action. Each of these steps will be explained as part of King's argument later in this essay....   [tags: King Martin Luther Birmingham Jail Essays]1372 words
(3.9 pages)
Powerful Essays[preview]
Analysis of Letter from Birmingham by Martin Luther King Jr. Essay - Analysis of Letter from Birmingham by Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr., is one of the most recognized, if not the greatest civil rights activist in this century. He has written papers and given speeches on the civil rights movement, but one piece stands out as one of his best writings. “Letter from Birmingham” was an intriguing letter written by King in jail in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. He was responding to a letter written by eight Alabama Clergyman that was published in a Birmingham Alabama newspaper in 1963 regarding the demonstrations that were occurring to stop segregation....   [tags: Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Racism Essays]938 words
(2.7 pages)
Better Essays[preview]

Related Searches

Luther King         Birmingham         Jail         Political Community         Racial Segregation         Racial Differences         Black Americans         American Society         Racial Prejudice        






The response desired in his letter is agreement and appeal for the part of the white American society to abolish segregation and discontinue the injustices happening to his fellow black Americans, while King appeals to his black American fellow men for unity and solidarity, which is an essential factor for their cause to be achieved (that is, the prevention and eventual abolishment of racial prejudice, inequality, and injustice."



“Letter from Birmingham Jail” is addressed to several clergymen who had written an open letter criticizing the actions of Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during their protests in Birmingham. Dr. King tells the clergymen that he was upset about their criticisms, and that he wishes to address their concerns.

First, he notes their claim that he is an “outsider” who has come to Birmingham to cause trouble (170). He defends his right to be there in a straightforward, unemotional tone, explaining that the SCLC is based in Atlanta but operates throughout the South. One of its affiliates had invited the organization to Birmingham, which is why they came.

However, he then provides a moral reason for his presence, saying that he came to Birmingham to battle “injustice.” Because he believes that “all communities and states” are interrelated, he feels compelled to work for justice anywhere that injustice is being practiced. Dr. King believes the clergymen have erred in criticizing the protestors without equally exploring the racist causes of the injustice that is being protested (170-171).

He then explains in detail his process of organizing nonviolent action. First, the SCLC confirmed that Birmingham had been practicing institutionalized racism, and then attempted to negotiate with white business leaders there. When those negotiations broke down because of promises the white men broke, the SCLC planned to protest through “direct action.” Before beginning protests, however, they underwent a period of “self-purification,” to determine whether they were ready to work nonviolently, and suffer indignity and arrest. When they decided they could, they then prepared to protest (171).

However, the SCLC chose to hold out because Birmingham had impending mayoral elections. Though the notorious racist Eugene “Bull” Connor was defeated in the election, his successor, Albert Boutwell, was also a pronounced segregationist. Therefore, the protests began.

Dr. King understands that the clergymen value negotiation over protest, but he insists that negotiations cannot happen without protest, which creates a “crisis” and “tension” that forces unwilling parties (in this case, the white business owners) to negotiate in good faith. He admits that words like “tension” frighten white moderates, but embraces the concepts as “constructive and nonviolent.” He provides examples that suggest tension is necessary for humans to grow, and repeats that the tension created by direct action is necessary in this case if segregation is to end (171-172).

He next turns to the clergymen criticism that the SCLC action is “untimely.” After insisting that Albert Boutwell was not different enough to warrant patience, he launches into an extended claim that “privileged groups” will always oppose action that threatens the status quo. They will always consider attacks on their privilege as “untimely,” especially because groups have a tendency towards allowing immorality that individuals might oppose (173).

In particular, the black community has waited long enough. Dr. King insists that the black man has waited “more than 340 years” for justice, and he then launches into a litany of abuses that his people have suffered both over time and in his present day. Amongst these abuses is his experience explaining to his young daughter why she cannot go to the “public amusement park” because of her skin color. Because the black man has been pushed “into the abyss of despair,” Dr. King hopes that the clergymen will excuse his and his brethren’s impatience (173-174).

Dr. King then switches gears, noting that the clergymen are anxious over the black man’s “willingness to break laws.” He admits that his intention seems paradoxical, since he expects whites to follow laws that protect equality, while breaking others.

However, he then distinguishes between just and unjust laws, insisting that an individual has both a right and a responsibility to break unjust laws. He defines just laws as those that uphold human dignity, and unjust laws as those that “degrade human personality.” Unjust laws, he argues, hurt not only the oppressed, but also the oppressors, since they are given a false sense of superiority (175).

He then speaks specifically of segregation, describing it as unjust. Because it is a law that a majority forces the minority to follow while exempting itself from it, it is a law worth breaking. Further, because Alabama’s laws work to prohibit black citizens from fully participating in democracy, the laws are particularly unjust and undemocratic. Next, he adds that some just laws become unjust when they are misused. For instance, the law prohibiting “parading without a permit,” which he was arrested for breaking, is a just law that was used in this case solely to support the injustice of segregation (175-176).

Dr. King understands that flouting the law with wanton disregard would lead to “anarchy,” but he insists that he is willing to accept the penalty for his transgression. This distinction makes his civil disobedience just. He then provides a list of allusions that support his claim. To sum up his point on just and unjust laws, he notes that the laws of Nazi Germany allowed for Jewish persecution, and that he would have gladly broken those laws to support the oppressed class had he lived there (176).

The next topic Dr. King addresses is that of white moderates, who have greatly disappointed him. He argues that they value “order” over “justice,” and as a result have made it easier for the injustice of segregation to persist. He believes that moderates cannot distinguish between the nonviolent action and the violence of the oppressors. In particular, he is shocked that the clergymen would blame the black victims for the violence of segregation, as he believes they did in their open letter (177).

He further attacks moderates over their demands for patience. Moderates believe that time will get better if the oppressed blacks are patient, but Dr. King insists that “time itself is neutral” and that change only happens when good men take action (178).

He then addresses the clergymen's claim that SCLC action is “extreme.” Dr. King describes himself as standing between two opposing forces for black change. On one hand are the complacent blacks, who are either too demeaned to believe change possible or who have some modicum of success that they are unwilling to sacrifice for true equality. On the other hand are the more violent factions, exemplified by Elijah Muhammad and his Black Muslim movement. Dr. King argues that he stands between these two extremes, offering a path towards nonviolent, loving protest. He implicitly warns that blacks will turn to the more violent option if Dr. King’s path is not favored by the population at large (179).

However, Dr. King goes further and proudly embraces the label of “extremist.” He argues that it is possible to be a “creative extremist” and provides a list of unimpeachable figures whom he considers extremists for positive causes. These include Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. Dr. King is disappointed that white moderates cannot distinguish between these types of extremism, but wonders whether whites can ever truly understand the disgrace that blacks have suffered in America (180).

He next lists a second disappointment, in the white church. Though he once expected the Southern church to be one of his movement’s primary allies, they have time and again either opposed his cause of remained “silent”, therefore facilitating injustice. Too many of the white church leaders have seen Civil Rights as a social movement, irrelevant to their church, but Dr. King believes this cowardice will eventually make their churches irrelevant unless they change. Whereas the church should be a force for change, a challenge to the status quo, it has become too comfortably a reflection of the prevailing conditions, a de facto supporter of those in power (181-182). Though these doubts make him pessimistic, Dr. King has found some hope in the whites who have joined his mission.

Further, Dr. King finds optimism when reflecting on the history of blacks in America. They have survived slavery and persisted towards freedom despite centuries of atrocities, and have in fact provided the center of American history.

Before closing, Dr. King addresses the clergymen’s commendation of the Birmingham police, whom they claim were admirably nonviolent when confronting the protests. Dr. King implies that the clergymen are ignorant of the abuses the clergymen used, but also insists that their “discipline,” their restraint from violence in public, does not make their actions just. Instead, they use that restraint to perpetuate injustice, which makes them reprehensible (184).

Dr. King is upset that the clergymen did not see fit to also commend the brave black people who have fought injustice nonviolently. Believing that history will ultimately show this latter group to be the real heroes of the age, he hopes the clergymen will eventually realize what is actually happening.

Finally, he apologizes for the length and potential overstatement of his letter, but hopes they will understand the forces that have led him to such certainty. He signs the letter, “Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood” (185).

0 thoughts on “Essay On Martin Luther King Jr Letter From Birmingham Jail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *