Letter From Birmingham Jail Analysis
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” is considered by numerous to be a masterpiece of American essay writing and political rhetoric. King’s adept handling of persuasive appeals and his interventions in the representation of the stakeholders in the struggle for civil rightsallowed him to introduce the Civil Rights Movement to a nationwide audience that might well have actually had negative understandings of it. King uses appeals to emotion, factor, and character/authority tostake out a stronger position for the protestors.
King utilizes attract emotion throughout the essay to dramatize the impact of segregation and bigotry on African-Americans and to humanize them, an essential task given the lack of knowledge or false information about African-Americans that would have dominated popular culture of the day. King also uses attract factor and facts to support his case. For example, King details the actions for using nonviolent direct action (87) and after that systematically explains how the SCLC and ACMHR followed each of the steps before protesting, therefore countering accusations from the ministers (and a nationwide audience) that the protests were ill-timed.
Finally, King depends on figures like Jesus and the apostles to develop a precedent for his participation in seeminglysecular affairs, a move that helps him to develop reliability. The other significant task King had to achieve in composing “Letter from Birmingham Prison” was an intervention in the way he, the motion he led, and the footsoldiers of that motion– protestors– were represented. Numerous readers would have seen partition as a regional issue, and others would even have seen King’s politics with suspicion in the context of the Cold War.
King uses a multipronged approach to reach these readers. First, he uses the idea of the
“interrelatedness of all communities and states”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From Birmingham Jail Analysis, Page 87
to offer a rationale for his engagement in seemingly regional affairs, and that creates a rationale for the nationwide audience’s participation also. King also consistently writes the demonstrations into a story that reimagines American history as centuries of oppression and describes contemporary efforts to upset for modification as part of an American custom of civil disobedience in the service of liberty.
By recasting the history of racial injustice as a 340-year old issue, as opposed to a decades-old battle motivated by agitators, King presents protest as a long past due action. King’s representation of protestors as patriotic likewise counters the allegation that there was something un-American about their activities. 1963, the year of the protests, was one year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which raised fears of nuclear annihilation from Soviet missiles parked in Cuba.
In the context of this atmosphere, King’s focus on social justice (an issue of Communist ideology), his determination to break laws, and his power to inspire others to do the exact same opened him to both genuine and disingenuous accusations that the Civil Rights Movement was a concealed effort by the Soviet Union to destabilize the U. S. The allegation had to be countered to sway this suspicious national audience.
His self-representation as a guy of God whose politics is grounded in Christian faith and African-American protestors as the embodiment of American and Christian perfects are specific interventions created to put Cold War suspicions to rest. King also intervenes in the representation of other political players in American politics to reveal that the belief that partition will gradually end on its own is deeply flawed and not moderate.
It wrongly assumes the choice is between continued segregation and steady integration. King’s concentrate on black nationalists, whom he views as hazardous actors capable of leveraging African-American discontent to develop a
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From Birmingham Jail Analysis, Page 101
of violence, is designed to show that the option is in between violent revolt and nonviolent demonstration, which it will be impossible to limit the previous if immediate action is not taken.
In providing nonviolent demonstration as a moderate, third way, Kingtransforms himself into a figure of moderation, represents African-Americans as agents in their own political fate, andpoints whites– specifically moderates– toward a greater evil that could unfold, ought to they not allow more moderate forms of protest. King’s interventions in representations of himself, African-Americans, and white moderates, coupled with his proficient usage of convincing appeals, serve to encourage the audience that the demonstrations in Birmingham are warranted and part of a deeply American motion that is needed now.