The racial inclusion enjoyed by all today in the United States did not come easy. Until the late 1960s, racial segregation was rife in the country. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr writes in response to a statement issued by a group of eight white clergymen condemning their nonviolent active action. However, this rhetorical analysis targets fellow classmates, who may or may not have read Dr. King’s letter.
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His confinement in the cells of a Birmingham prison does not stop him from advancing his philosophy of nonviolent action against segregation. It contrarily acts as an impetus for him to write this very long letter since he is not having any other active engagement. Dr. King takes advantage of the opportunity not only to address the apparent support of racial segregation perpetrated by these religious leaders but also the indifference of moderate whites.
To qualify their involvement in direct action, Dr. King reveals that the Birmingham city authorities were unwilling to negotiate with them. He raises the stakes in his letter by pointing out “… the intent of our peaceful, active action is to generate a crisis-filled situation that will certainly necessitate commencement of negotiations…” This proposition aspires to appeal to his readers’ consciences, who ostensibly are clerics.
He generates an argumentative stance (Goldthwaite 204) from the clergymen’s condemnation that his group broke the law through their active action. Dr. King retorts “… I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court outlawing segregation… because it is morally right, and… disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.” Wilhoit supports his approach of invoking a reason to create a persuasive discourse (131).
Dr. King points out to his readers that he legitimately ranks high in the leadership structure of the civil rights movement whose actions are in question. He says, “I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited… because I have basic organizational ties here.”
He goes on to reiterate, “I have been disappointed with the church… I do not say that as one of those negative critics… I say it as a minister of the gospel who loves the church.” These instances evidently portray his use of ethos to legitimize his position (MIT 6).
He dedicates an entire paragraph to highlight to his readers the pain the African Americans have had to go through, courtesy of segregation. Dr. King’s application of pathos in paragraph 11 is evident with several emotionally appealing calls. In some cases, he says “… when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers… And see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children.”
These enumerated instances depict him as a passionate leader, driven by love for the people he is vouching for. Since he is writing to church leaders in particular and the church in general, Dr. King comes out as someone intent on invoking in them the Christian tenets of love and justice. “Whether the church defends justice or not, I am hopeful of what the future holds.” His anticipation of a bright future irrespective of the church’s help aims at resounding to the clergy the need for them to join in their quest for justice.
The concluding remarks of Dr. King’s letter reveal a man who was not just intent on responding to the remarks of the clergymen in question. His sarcasm portrays him as one who was avidly determined to convince his readers that the time for racial inclusion had come and they needed to be part of the solution.
Goldthwaite, Melissa, A, ed. The Norton Pocket Book Of Writing By Students. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
King, Martin, Luther. Letter from Birmingham Jail . Ed. Ali, B Ali-Dinar. 1963. Web.
MIT. “Essay # 1—Critical Rhetorical Analysis (CRA) of a Speech.” Spring 2010. MIT OpenCourseWare. Web.
Wilhoit, Stephen. “Rhetorical Analysis of Written Texts.” Wilhoit, Stephen. Brief Guide to Writing from Readings. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2012. 127-147. Print.