Martin Luther King Jr. wrote one of his most famous works while confined in a jail cell. He wrote this as a response to a statement written about him by eight Alabama clergymen. In the letter King uses many methods to convey his message about things going on in Alabama. King mainly uses logos, pathos, and ethos to express his point in “Letter from Birmingham Jail. ”
In the letter King utilized the power of human emotion to explain to the clergymen the importance of his being in Birmingham for the demonstrations. Early in the letter King stated “We were the victims of a broken promise”, quickly getting the clergymen to be empathetic to his disappointment. He explained how he had tried to negotiate without having to come to the demonstrations, but the businessmen had backed out of their agreement and surely the clergy must relate to his frustration about the broken promises.
King continued, speaking more directly, when he said “In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with hopes that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. ” Here he aimed directly at the clergymen targeting their religion as well as their livelihoods.
In a way he used shame to exemplify how they had played a hand in him being in Birmingham. Had they helped, had they gotten even a few to show compassion, then maybe his visit could have been avoided. Again, when King wrote: “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love,” he used guilt. Not only did he shame them for not being on top of their game, but he forgave them in the same sentence.
He showed them true Christian love even when they had not done the same for him. Another example of King using pathos to express his point is when he described why it is difficult to just sit and wait for the injustice to be solved without movement. King said: “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick nd even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; 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, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?
When you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs. “; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. ” He used vivid descriptions and personal experiences to try to get compassion of the Clergymen.
In the “Letter to Martin Luther King”, the Clergymen said that King was an outsider coming in to direct and lead the Negro citizens in demonstrations. King responded to this by saying, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. He goes on to explain why he is in Birmingham. “I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in. ” He describes how he is the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which operates in every southern state. One of the organizations is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.
The affiliate in Birmingham asked him to come and engage in a nonviolent direct action program. So king states, “I along with several members of my staff, am because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here. King establishes his credibility by aligning himself with prophets of earlier times. “Just as the prophets of the eight century B. C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own hometown.
Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. King compares himself to Paul in that quote. He basically says am I wrong for doing the same things early Christians did. King went on to talk about early Christians and their “outside agitators”. “Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”. He’s saying that the Clergymen are just like the people in power back then. The Christians pressed on obeying God rather than man. “By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. He is saying that if he presses on through nonviolent protests it will eventually bring an end to all the injustice in the world right now. Another example of King using ethos is when he addressed the Clergymen calling him an extremist.
King said: “But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. ” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. ” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God. ” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. ” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free. ” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . . ” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. ” King used many historical figures to express that what he is doing is very similar to what the people in their times did.
He is basically saying that what he is doing is nothing different than what the men would have done if they were alive, and if the Clergymen disagree with what he is doing then in theory they are disagreeing with these great men. King also used logic, and a few sarcastic quips, to get the clergymen to see his point. He actually begins the letter in such a way by saying “Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. ”