On April 16, 1963, from the jail in Birmingham, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a letter to the eight leaders of the white Church of the South. They had attacked his civil rights work in a public statement released on April 12, 1963. To persuade his readers, King mainly uses three types of persuasion that are appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos. First, King appeals to his own reputation and wisdom. Second, he tries to arouse emotions or sympathy in the readers.
Finally, he appeals to logic, supported with evidence and citations from influential thinkers. He generates strong emotional appeals that are powerful at influencing what people think and believe. King establishes ethos by reaching different audiences based on his character. He also uses inartistic and artistic appeals at his attempt to persuade his readers in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail. ” Martin Luther King, Jr. ntends to create a feeling of closeness and compassion for the civil rights cause. His purpose is to stir up emotion in his readers. One example that illustrates his use of this strategy is present in paragraph seven of his letter: “As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.
As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. Another example of pathos is in paragraph twelve of his letter: “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. ” This emphasizes the injustice in the daily life of the members of the African American community. King wants to be the spokesperson of the African American community in the United States of America. His intention is to prove to his opponents that he has sufficient authority to promote the civil rights cause on behalf of his community.
One example that illustrates his use of this strategy is present in the second paragraph of his letter: “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. ” Here, he reminds us of his position as a leader in the religious community. This allows him to stand in the case of equal qualifications with the eight clergymen. Another example of this strategy is in the third paragraph of his letter: “Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. ” King implies he is a prophet for freedom like Paul, but also like Jesus in the same paragraph. This provides him with the highest level of authority in the religious field. Dr. King suggests he has the support of God to wage his war against injustice. Therefore, since God has chosen him, it implies he is of higher moral standards.
He is a minister, an integrationist, a civil-rights leader, a fellow clergyman, and a Christian brother, all great accomplishments to support his authority. These are examples of how King is using ethos to build his character through his reputation, his authority, and his motives. The majority of King’s letter illustrates his use of logos, whether it is providing hard evidence through facts, or testimonies and narratives, or cultural assumptions and values. One example of this strategy is in the sixth paragraph of his letter: “There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known.
Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. ” Another example is in the seventh paragraph of his letter: “In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. 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 months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise.
A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. ” These are both examples of appeals to logos. Most Americans have shared values of principles of fairness and ultimately believe all people be treated the same way. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wishes to justify the importance and the legitimacy of his participation in the events in Alabama. He must establish his authority as both a minister and a representative for African Americans to establish equality between him and the eight clergymen to be credible to his audience.
Furthermore, he plays with emotions to decrease oppositions and reinforce his vision of the fight for Civil Rights. King’s aim is to create a feeling of identification with the civil rights cause in the mind of his readers. Finally, his audience is in a spirit of appeasement and therefore is ready to listen to his discussion. King demonstrates the authenticity of his claims and the legitimacy of his fight thanks to evidence and logic. In this way, he discloses his personal ability for debating but also the African Americans’ capacity for defending positions in approaching discussions. An important element of this Letter from Birmingham Jail is that Martin Luther King, Jr. concludes his letter with an appeal to peace and unity.