Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail” was written in 1963 when African Americans were fighting for equality. You can tell that this letter was written in a different decade because of the vocabulary used throughout the letter itself. When writing this letter, King was trying to appeal to a higher source to show that the the action that King and his people took, were necessary. King uses valid argument throughout his piece using ethos, pathos and logos to support his reasoning and behavior.
King uses ethos in his letter demonstrating how he is reasonable, knowledgeable and moral. He shows he is knowledgeable by knowing Socrates, “Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half- truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal” (802). He also shows his knowledge by comparing the events to Hitler, “…never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything that the the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany”(805). He shows he is moral through bringing to to the reader’s attention, “I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen”(809). King also shows he is reasonable that he points out that him, being who he is, is not perfect himself! “I am in a rather unique position of being the the son, the the grandson, and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists”(809).
Along with using ethos, King also uses pathos. A prime example is when King writes, “ Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence””(811). This is a good example of pathos because it appeals to emotion and has enough power behind it to work someone’s nerve and allows the reader to choose a side to King’s argument. King’s main adjective for this letter is to persuade the the reader into seeing his point of view of the wrongdoings of the whites. King uses a imagery within his letter to make the the pathos much stronger to the reader.
The last rhetorical appeal King uses is logos. King uses logos throughout the the letter to backup his counter argument against the the clergymen. In his letter, King really focuses on the difference of just, and and unjust laws. “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority”(804). King precedes to state the fact, “Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured? Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application”(804). Although he mentions just and unjust laws often throughout his letter, King uses plenty more of examples logos to make his point.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” is woven together using ethos, pathos and logos to perfectly support his point of view. The audience of this letter was probably persuaded by his letter because of his good use of rhetorical devices and valid information and evidence that the demonstration was absolutely necessary at the time.
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