“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” By M.L.King

The famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail was produced by Martin Luther King Jr. as a kind of open letter to the ministers, who criticized his actions in Birmingham. This letter was written in 1963, exactly the period, when the issues and controversies of segregation were really acute in the South. There was no social comfort and order, as a lot of people suffered from violence and social injustice. Such situation was potentially dangerous for relations between people. Mr. King was aware of the necessity to introduce the corresponding changes in the attitude towards black people and their position in society. Socioeconomic and human problems were growing and there was an evident need to find the ways of solving them for the sake of all members of the society. All these factors had their impact upon the rhetorical situation for the speech of Martin Luther King Jr. The author of the speech did his best to accumulate his knowledge of the situation, his own life experience and his ideas of the possible course of action and on the basis of simple, but evident examples, to pass all these ideas to the audience. In order to increase his credibility he chose to make a comparison of himself to the Apostle Paul, when he wrote about the injustice and unfairness of the current situation in the society and the practice of segregation and its results. The author provided the steps, which should be taken in order to provide an effective reaction and response from the side of the authorities. Such approach without any doubts contributed to increase of the credibility of the author and made his reasoning and arguments sound weighty and meaningful. He worked out the direct-action program and utilized the abductive kind of reasoning.

Some of the words, which were used by Martin Luther King Jr.,  showed that this speech was written during the times of the peak of racial segregation problem, as the word “negro” was widely used during those times and it is not in use nowadays at all. The whole context of the speech was marked by the evident desire of the author to secure freedom and normal social functioning for African American members of the society. Thus the main reason for producing of this letter was to convince the clergyman that there was a justified need to demonstrate at that moment. Thus the tone of the author is generally firm and persuasive, mostly due to the fact that he himself deeply believed into the ideas, which he expressed to his audience. The most traditional means of persuasion, namely Logos, Pathos and Ethos, could be found in his speech.

Logos is used by King, when he presents his counterarguments to the clergymen. He wrote in his letter “[they] had no alternative except to prepare for direct action,” (King 2014) . King used numerous logical examples in order to support his point, like for example some historical evidence, like when he writes: “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.” (King 2014). His appeal to authority is a way to use logical arguments – “Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” (King 2014). This is a way to build strong argument, using the well-known individual, whom most people know and respect and his ideas. King’s logos is very strong, as he selected appropriate examples in order to make his ideas clear and apprehensible to the audience, because only under the condition that the audience understands them clearly, there is a chance to convince people of their truth.

Ethos is also used by Martin Luther King Jr., which is on the one hand reasonable and on the other hand is related to morality. His reasonable arguments are evident in the following lines of his speech: “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional God-given rights. This is reasonable because the clergymen are telling him to wait, and King is being reasonable because he did wait- for 340 years.” (King 2014). Knowing of the important aspects of history and ability to manipulate his experience and knowledge enable King to work out a good ethos. The morality aspects are revealed in his description of human relations, as they should be “…so we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” (King 2014).

One more rhetorical appeal, which is utilized by King, is pathos. He uses it also for the sake of better presentation of his ideas about the main aim of all people to live together and in peace. On the second page of his speech it is possible to find the most vivid example of his pathos: “…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 tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children.” (King 2014). The main idea of the author here is to make all people realize that they are also involved and could be considered guilty for such a situation, taking place in the society, they live in. Any persons would feel sympathetic with children, who are absolutely innocent and could not be punished for the color of their skin. Most of the audience would agree with this point and this is a half way of convincing them of the general acceptation of the King’s argumentation. King is a great master in using adjectives as the means to persuade the readers of his correct views about the situation. For example his phrase about tears “welling up” makes the images utterly vivid and this contributes to better realization of the audience of the picture of the scene, the author is talking about. This makes the readers more involved and concentrated upon the major ideas.

The main aim of using pathos, logos and ethos for Martin Luther King was his intention to reveal his attitude and ideas to the audience and convince it of his point of view. His intended audience was clearly defined as clergy and white moderate and his major aim was to persuade them with the help of his information, rhetorical advices and evidence and make his speech corresponding to the actual rhetoric situation.

Annotated Bibliography

Dyson, M. E. “Martin and Malcolm.” Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare. no. 56 (1992): 48-59.

The views of Martin and Malcolm were different, as Martin Luther King Jr. believed that there was a way to utilize a non-violent approach in solving the problem of racial segregation. Malcolm X in his turn was convinced that there could be only armed –resistance method effective.

King, M. L. Jr. “Martin Luther King Jr.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

The source provides precise information about the life of Martin Luther King Jr and his activities in the sphere of social justice and racial segregation.

King, M. L. “Teaching American History | A Leading Online Resource for American History Teachers & Students.” Teaching American History. Web. 20 May 2014.

This is the original writing of Martin Luther King Jr, which was dedicated to the injustice in Birmingham. Utilizing his personal experience and knowledge along with strong rhetorical devices, the author did his best to address the intended audience of his position in this matter. He tried to explain the reasons, why he was present there and what the major final aims of his actions were.


Lischer, R. The preacher King. Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Word That Moved America. Oxford University Press. New York Oxford, 1997

This book was written by an individual, who had his own memories about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and was able to remember the voice of Martin Luther King Jr and its meaning for the notion of social justice. The intention of the author was to consider the emotional side as well as to find the rational account of King as a speaker and a preacher.

Santoro, W. A. “The Civil Rights Movement and the Right to Vote: Black Protest, Segregationist Violence and the Audience.” Social Forces. No. 4 (2008): 1391-1414.

This source is devoted to consideration of the major issues of the racial segregation, its violence and black protest against it. Actually this violent approach was already a good argument for the audience to change the attitude and position in relation to the position of black people in the society.

Sharing is caring!

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: April 1, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: April 1, 2020]

freeessays.club (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
Available at:

[Accessed: April 1, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: April 1, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: April 1, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: April 1, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: April 1, 2020]