Martin Luther King Letter Birmingham Jail Essay Examples

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail Essay

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Power Analysis:
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail
A statement from eight white clergymen from Alabama prompted Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. This statement criticized Kings actions of non-violent protests against racial segregation and the injustice of unequal civil rights in America (Carpenter elt al.). The eight clergymen considered Birmingham to be “their” town and King was disrupting the “Law and Order and Common Sense” established in coping with racial issues in Alabama during this time (Carpenter elt al. par 1). These clergymen considered King an “outsider” and describe his actions as “unwise and untimely” (Carpenter elt al. par 3). This statement suggests that there is an appropriate time…show more content…

Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s letter was influential in inspiring and ultimately altering societal attitude on racial issues. He used a creative use of language that addresses any plausible audience including: the clergymen, the religious moderates, the equal rights supporters and the oppressed black community. The use of famous icons, religious leaders, and traditional scholars as references provided a multitude of examples that clearly illustrated King’s key points. Moreover, King carefully analyzed the duplicity of racial segregation through examples of “civil disobedience” among important historical icons valued in society (King par 21). In doing this King is able to utilize Luke’s, three-dimensional approach and tilt the power dynamic in his favor. It is Luke’s political strategy that helps King to create the desired power shift. His approach forces his audience to look beyond the surface (one-dimensional view), into the First-Amendment rights to protest (second-dimensional view), and further into the behavior that oppresses and segregates the black community (third-dimensional view) (Lukes). King creates parallels and invokes images that are familiar to his audience. In particular, in aims these images to the White Anglo Saxon society by creating the awareness of their hypocrisy. King uses the examples of Shadrach, Meschack and Abendego, who

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“Letter From Birmingham Jail” Essay




Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes a letter to eight fellow clergymen that he titled “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” King wrote this letter while in jail in Birmingham. Within this letter he addresses the men who labeled his activities in Birmingham “unwise and untimely.” He goes over his activities and why they are in fact not “unwise and untimely.” In order to understand King’s concept of justice, let us examine his distinction between just and unjust laws, his disappointment in the church, and the danger of the “white moderate.”

King’s concept of justice is his distinction between just and unjust laws “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” was a question the King argues. “There are two different types of laws just and unjust.” Some people believed that an unjust law was not a law at all, but King felt otherwise. King felt “a just law was a manmade code that squares with the moral law of the law of God.” A just law is a code made by man that follows the moral code of conduct, or a code followed in the eyes of God. “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” The moral code of conduct is what makes up both just and unjust laws. There are many different ways that King explains the difference between just and unjust laws. He claims how segregation is an unjust law to him because it “distorts that soul and damages the personality.” It seemed as if most unjust laws were inflicted on the minority more than anyone else. “As 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.” Moreover, King saw more unjust being done rather than just laws towards the minorities, and discussed his distinction between just and unjust laws.

King points to the church’s failure to step into the breach and teach its members the evil segregation laws and disobeying them is an act of justice. King believed in the church but became disappointed with them. He wanted to clarify that he was not saying that he was just like the “negative critics that judged the church.” He was a “minister of the gospel”, and loved the church. During a protest in Montgomery, Alabama he felt that the church would be one of his “strongest allies”, but they were not. To King the church was “refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders.” Feeling as if they have became just as unjust as everyone else is the main reason he became disappointed with them. Segregation was a major issue that King explains the church refused to recognize. Additionally, with the church not supporting his as he believed they should he addresses them as to why he was disappointed. By pointing out their failures he was teaching its members the evil segregation laws and that disobeying them is an act of justice.

According to King, the “white moderate” poses a very real threat to justice by their refusal to recognize the rectitude of disobeying unjust laws. They are supposed to be people who understand the law and uphold it. King is disappointed with the “white moderate” because he felt that they “would understand that the law and order exists for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose there becomes a dangerously structured dam that block the flow of social progress.” The segregation law caused a lot of conflict between both King and the “white moderate.” There were many things that were being over looked by them which King did not agree with. There was “tension in the south [that was] a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.” Furthermore, King was disappointed with the “white moderate” because with their high power they did not try to recognize the real threat all he got was their refusal to recognize the rectitude of disobeying unjust laws.

Therefore in order to understand King’s concept of justice, we examined his distinction between just and unjust laws, his disappointment in the church, and the danger of the “white moderate.” King advised the clergyman of the issues he saw and were told about in Birmingham. He explained why is visit was in fact not “unwise and untimely”, but very much needed. Kings visit was to help them was to help them see what they were trying to ignore and decided to turn their backs on. His visit to Birmingham was to help his people and help those who did not see the truth to recognize it.




Submitted by: dameciaj

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