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Summary of M. L. King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Introduction

A famous leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the letter called “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as a response to eight clergymen who denounced peaceful protests for equal treatment. This letter was written in the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama state after he was arrested for participating in the Birmingham campaign, which planned non-violent demonstrations for Human Rights. The letter’s aim lies in addressing the “good will” of those white clergymen in “patient and reasonable terms,” showing the equality of both races (King para. 1). The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written on April 16, 1963, becoming one of the classical American pieces of literature concerning the anti-racist movement. The thesis statement of Dr. King lies in his argument that protests are necessary actions to fight the systematic racism that was ignored by white authorities for a long time.

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People Were Created By God as Equal

The first argument of Dr. King is that all the people on Earth were equal because of God’s attitude towards them. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was influenced by the Puritanism movement and sought freedom and equal rights that can be traced back to the puritan origin in American history (Xiong). Moreover, Dr. King demonstrated his puritanism position while explaining his disobedience and wish to break unjust laws: “It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire” (para. 17).

Thus, one can conclude that Dr. King had a strong puritanism position, meaning that he believed in the equality of all the people created by God. In his letter, Dr. King tried to explain the civil rights movement’s position to those white clergymen, applying puritanism.

Protests Are Legitimated by the Rationalists

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that civil rights for black people should be introduced because the rationalists believed in equality. Thus, rationalism influenced Dr. Martin, suggesting more argumentative grounds for his wish for freedom (Xiong). In the letter, Dr. King wrote: “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” (para. 9). Moreover, one can be sure that his citation supports the main thesis of the letter. Martin Luther King believed that protests (tension in mind) were obligatory actions to cope with systematic racism (bondage of half truths).

Unity With Dr. King’s Fellow Protestors

Across the letter, one can notice that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often uses the pronoun “we,” demonstrating unity with his fellow protesters. By this rhetoric method, the leader opposes his movement to the white clergymen, constantly emphasizing that both sides were equal and needed to listen to each other (Marks). For instance, Dr. King wrote: “We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community” (para. 7). Here, one can see that Martin Luther King emphasized the common will of the movement’s representatives to protest. Therefore, the leader supported his thesis not only explaining the movement’s action through the prisms of puritanism and rationalism but also applying some rhetorical techniques in the letter.

Opinion

From my perspective, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is indeed a significant piece of American literature. In his work, Dr. King tries to demonstrate the racist issue from different angles, opening the clergymen’s eyes to established inequality. I think Matin Luther King’s arguments can be as considered good ones because of the applied rhetorical methods I discussed in the paragraph above. I can claim that the point of initial equality is still relevant today because of existing minority groups. Nowadays, some people still discriminate against others, forgetting that all of us were born equal. However, one can claim that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream has come true because all of the citizens have suffrage and other civil rights. Moreover, I am sure that his dream has come true because of this letter’s influence on the population and the government.

Conclusion

Martin Luther King, Jr., being a civil rights movement leader, wrote the letter trying to establish equality between the races by responding to eight clergymen’s denouncement of peaceful protests. In his letter, Dr. King explained the civil rights movement’s position to those white clergymen, applying puritanism: he recalled that God created all people equally, and people should not try to alter this fact. Then, he, influenced by rationalism, discussed that protests were necessary to fight systematic racism, recalling Socrates’ works. Finally, Dr. King used various rhetoric methods to influence the clergymen. For instance, Martin Luther King often uses the pronoun “we” to emphasize the unity with his fellow protesters. Overall, one can claim that Dr. King thoroughly discussed the issue and supported the thesis with solid arguments.

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Works Cited

King Jr, Martin Luther. Letter from Birmingham jail. 1963. African Studies Centre – University of Pennsylvania. Web.

Marks, Robert. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail: Its Merit Through Dramatism, 2021.

Xiong, Li. American Thought Embodied in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” DEStech Transactions on Social Science, Education and Human Science meit, 2018.

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StudyCorgi. "Summary of M. L. King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”." January 20, 2023. https://studycorgi.com/summary-of-m-l-king-jr-s-letter-from-birmingham-jail/.

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StudyCorgi. 2023. "Summary of M. L. King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”." January 20, 2023. https://studycorgi.com/summary-of-m-l-king-jr-s-letter-from-birmingham-jail/.

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StudyCorgi. (2023) 'Summary of M. L. King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”'. 20 January.

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