Analysis of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

First Martin Luther King effectively makes use of logos throughout his letter. He clarifies all of the reasons for his arguments and supports them well. His arguments are also logical in their appeal. For example, in the beginning of his letter he gives a response to the clergymen’s claim that the demonstrations were unwise and untimely. He states that the Negro community had no alternative except to prepare for direct action. He supports this claim by saying that the Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers, but they consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation. He also gives more support to his argument by writing about another incident in September when the Negro leaders finally got their chance to talk with the leaders of Birmingham. He states that in the course of negotiations certain promises were made by the merchants-for example to remove the stores’ humiliating racial sings. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and the months went on, they realized that they were the victims of broken promises, because the signs went back up. Due to the fact that their hopes were yet again blasted they were forced to resort to direct action. This is just one example of many others in which Martin Luther King makes excellent appeals to logos.

Martin Luther King conveys a high sense of ethos in his letter. He establishes this from t4he very start of the argument. In the first paragraph he sets the tone for the letter. He states that he wants to answer the clergymen’s statements in patient and reasonable terms. Also, he establishes his credibility in the second paragraph by responding to the clergymen’s view that he was an outsider coming in. He reveals that he is the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. This clearly establishes his credibility on arguments and claims throughout his letter. Martin Luther King also appeals to ethos by even stating the clergymen’s views throughout his letter, which of course embodies the alternative to his views.

Lastly, Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” has immense emotion appeal, also known as pathos. The last issue addressed in King’s letter is that of the Birmingham police force being commended for keeping “order” and “preventing violence”. This section contains the greatest sense of pathos in the letter. He starts out by talking about some of the actions that the police force took, such as letting dogs loose on the people and their treatment of the people. He states that he saw the dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. He says that the clergymen would not so quickly commend the police if they observed their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes in the city jail; if they were to watch them push and kick old Negro man and young boys; if they were to observe them refuse the give the demonstrators food because they wanted to sing their grace together.

Martin Luther King’s strongest appeal was to Logos. Although his appeals to ethos and pathos were brilliant, if his letter was not consistent, or logical, the quality of ethos and pathos would have been diminished. The logos is the persuasive appeal that pulls everything together. The case of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is an excellent example of this theory. It is because of this that the letter’s appeal to logos is the strongest and most effective of the three.




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