The Theme of Nonviolence in “The Letter from Birmingham Jail” By Martin Luther King

The Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King is his famous speech, which describes basic concepts of non-violent resistance to racism and segregation. It contains  core ideas of civil right movement and sets up important themes of the resistance. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail  Martin Luther King  gives strong and convincing arguments to prove  that nonviolent resistance should become   the main strategy of social protest. 

The Letter from Birmingham Jail  was written by King on April 16, 1963 as a response to the newspaper article written by six Alabama clergymen. This article insisted on following laws and judicial norms and rejected any form of social resistance, including street protests. Clergymen stated that fighting for equal civil rights was important but they called to limit protests  to judicial area only and to defense human rights in courts and other legal institutions only.  In his Letter from Birmingham Jail King explained meaningfulness of protest and necessity to fight unfair laws and make everything possible to break the resistance of state machine.

Martin Luther King defined his strategy as non-violent resistance and described it as the most effective weapon again injustice and discrimination. He gives strong evidence to support his argument.  In his letter, King underlines the necessity of non-violent actions. He believes that passive waiting will bring no result because system of oppression and discrimination is very strong and possesses support of many authority figures.  That is why he believes protest to be necessary and effective action, and history has proved that such an approach had effective results. King describes nature and stages of non-violent resistance. In his letter he proves that non-violent resistance is not an unregulated fighting, but logical consequence of actions which follow in strong succession. “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action” (King, 1963). Then he points out that they’ve followed all stages mentioned, during their protests in  Birmingham. King describes Birmingham is a   place with strongest segregation and discrimination where legal institutions give no  protection for African American citizens. King also describes carefully developed plan of protests and negotiations which proceeded them but gave no  positive results.

King points out that nonviolence is the only way to gain positive results during protests. He and his peers went through different stages of protest and their strategy of non-violent resistance was carefully chosen and prepared. King points out that non-violent action should serve as a mean to attract public attention to the problem. As he points out: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored” (King, 1963). According to King, resistance is a necessary component of any social protest since it become the only way to attract attention to the problem and make sides of the conflict seek for compromise. At the same time, he strongly condemns  violence and believes it to be a wrong and even damaging behavior. Violence produces only violence, and each protest should follow  the main goal – reaching consensus and finding ways to negotiate and reach results which would satisfy all participants of the process. King believes that creating tension to be a mean way to attract attention of all participants of the withstanding. “But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth” (King, 1963). In his letter, King makes a precise distinction between violence and non-violent resistance. He believes that only non-violent action can help to reach the main goal of social protests.

King also underlines low effectiveness of other strategies but nonviolent resistance. He points out that no changed have been adopted without strong pressure from the side of civil rights defenders. He gives different historical examples to prove his position and show that only social pressure can make those, who are in power perform actions which would benefit those who suffer because of social injustice. According to King, there are very little example in history when privileged groups give up their privileges without any pressure. That is the reason he insists on the necessity of resistance. At the same time he underlines that only peaceful resistance can guarantee success to fighters and save them from losses. King chooses wise and complicated strategy for his protests. He wants to keep  balance  between violence and passive waiting and perfectly realizes that such an approach requires high level of moral discipline. That is the reason he speaks about purification as one of the stage of the non-violent resistance. During this stage, the participants of the process should use opportunity to reflect about their real goals and about possible hardships, they can meet on their way. Martin Luther King himself became a perfect example of such a position. During protests in Birmingham he was had been caught and thrown to prison, where he was kept in very bad conditions. He was aware of such possibility and met imprisonment with dignity. He not only became the author of the idea of non-violent resistance, but also a perfect example of following this idea and his example became an inspiration for millions of people all over the world. Big  popularity and effectiveness of Civil Rights movement to great extend determined by non-violent strategy chosen by its leaders. Martin Luther King and his peers gave the American society a perfect example of moral strength and adherence to ideas of equality and fair social order. They became the carriers of the right ideas and made it in the right way, and that became one of the main reasons of the success of the Civil Rights Movement.

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

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

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

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

freeessays.club (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
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[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

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

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

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

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

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

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

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

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]
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