Arguments in King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”

12 April 1963. Eight Alabama clergymen declared their stand towards the recent events in Alabama, particularly in Birmingham. They have mentioned that these events are partly directed and led by outsiders. They pointed out that the demonstrations are “unwise and untimely.” They also urged the public to refrain from supporting the demonstrations, especially the Negro community (Carpenter et al. 1963).

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Unfortunately, the clergymen, either unconsciously or deliberately, missed something important – why these events have happened and what they should see. An answer is bound to appear four days after their public statement.

16 April 1963. Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. responded and pointed out that direct action was necessary to tackle the problem of racial discrimination. He fought against several ideas declared by the clergymen. Although he admitted the letter being lengthy, he explained why these actions were necessary and what events occurred beforehand to result in “direct action” (King 1963).

Using the printed matter of the public statement of the eight clergymen, he identified a series of points and answered the criticisms which were raised against his action. In his letter, he argued that his actions are against the state “unwise and untimely” (Carpenter et al. 1963).

In his letter, he didn’t just gainsay the clergymen for no apparent reason at all. He used the released printed matter as his basis in presenting his arguments against the clergymen. Anticipating that they would not be contented with superficial analysis of the situation, he provided details and information, backed up with references to reinforce his arguments.

As for several references which he used, quotations made by famous personalities like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and John Bunyan were among them. He also acknowledged the “white” supporters like Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, among others, for their backing and Reverend Stallings for welcoming Negroes into the worship service on a “nonsegregated basis” (King 1963).

Aside from these, he referred to situations and conditions like the brutalities, the ugly and inhumane treatments that are being endured by the Negroes in the city jail. Not only the experiences in the city jail did he take into account but also those of which happened outside penitentiary. An example is a Negro who slept in his car because not one motel accepted him (King 1963).

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Also, he defined words like segregation and extremist; differentiated between just and unjust laws and the two kinds of extremists (King 1963). He included himself and his experiences as well. He used all these to present valid reasoning, therefore making his argument justified.

On the other hand, he injected figurative language into his sentences to express his emotions and to emphasize his thoughts. He has shown sensitivity like what is cited in his statement, “constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid,” shows his concerns to the needs of others, in this case, the conditions being undergone by the “colored” Americans. His character continues to manifest in the succeeding parts of his letter.

Another example is his statements where he openly expressed commendations to different people who have helped in the cause. The same went with his disappointments with a few clergymen who have viewed his actions as those of an extremist, imparted his grave disappointments with the “white moderate” whom he described as “more devoted to order than justice.” He even showed his dislikes to the jail that he is in: a narrow jail cell, alone.

Another is found in the closing part of his argument. He opposed the idea of the commendations made by the clergymen to the police force in keeping order and preventing violence from happening in Birmingham. He presented situation that would perhaps change the minds of the clergymen like what he and the Negroes have been experiencing inside the city jail (King 1963).

More than once has Martin Luther King presented his responses to the criticisms made by his fellow clergymen. More than once has he expressed his feelings in his correspondence. Yet, in the entirety of his work, he kept a humble tone, as what he did: apologizing for the declarations that he has made even though he wasn’t entirely certain where exactly he had committed errors. In the end, he carries in him hopes that their cause will be seen and acted upon:

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Works Cited

Carpenter, C. C. J. Joseph A. Durick, D.D. Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman. Bishop Paul Hardin. Bishop Nolan B. Harmon. George M. Murray, D.D., LL.D. Edward V. Ramage. Earl Stallings. Public Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen. 1963. Alex Irvine. Web.

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King, Martin Luther Jr.. Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 1963. African Studies Center – University of Pennsylvania. Web.

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