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Rhetorical Analysis of Martin Luther King’s “letter from Birmingham Jail

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Rhetorical Analysis of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King Jr was arrested because he was the leader of non violent protests in Birmingham Alabama. While King was imprisoned he wrote a response to a statement that eight white Alabama clergymen had made criticizing his presence and actions in Birmingham. King responded to the clergymen by writing the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” this is an amazing display of rhetorical skill, especially considering that it was composed under such intense circumstances. The Alabama clergymen advocated patience, arguing that laws should be followed until matters could be settled in the courts. They also questioned the legitimacy of outside forces, such as King, inferring with Birmingham affairs. King’s rhetorical purpose at the beginning was to convince the clergymen that he was a legitimate presence engaged in timely and justified action.

Most of this letter is constructed on credibility, and he writes with ethos and passion. Yet his tone is humble, controlled, and intellectual. He even speaks of his willingness to be arrested as evidence of his deference to the law. This overarching tone paves the way for establishing ethos. First, he establishes the validity of his presence in Birmingham. By highlighting his participation with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King draws a connection to an established affiliate in Birmingham, citing their invitation to help and his promise kept. He also outlines the lengthy process and strategizing of his non-violent campaign to demonstrate the thoughtfulness of his movement. But above all, he suggests a culture of injustice in Birmingham requiring immediate, not specifically timed, response which supersedes restraint. In speaking so heavily of justice, King identifies himself as a man concerned with morality and universal human rights, values which he invokes in his readers as well.

A reference to the “shadow of deep disappointment” caused by broken promises creates empathy or pathos. (King p. 2) Further pathos is developed by a lengthy paragraph covering the history of abuse towards African Americans which culminates

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