As King and his affiliates Joined together to organize a non-violent protest against racial segregation, King and his fellow brothers and sisters were soon ailed by the white conservative community of Birmingham. While King and his members were locked up in Jail, a group of local white clergymen from Birmingham published a statement criticizing the actions of King and his supporters. The local white clergymen attempted to force the African American community to withdraw their support from the call rights movement.
In response, King replies with a letter aimed towards the clergymen as well as the white conservatives of Birmingham. In King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963), King attempts to explain his purpose for being in Birmingham and the reasons behind the civil rights movement. Through King’s language and rhetorical strategies, he attempts to convince these white clergymen; and the white conservatives, why equal rights should be granted to all African Americans.
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Moreover, King utilizes the rhetorical devices logos and ethos to appeal to the clergyman’s logic, authority, reputation and ethics. As King progresses throughout his letter, his audience will notice that he gradually lessens his use of logos and ethos and effectively strengthens his use of pathos In order to appeal to the white clergymen and the white conservative community. King begins his letter by first addressing the clergymen as “My Dear Fellow Clergymen” (163) and acknowledges that they have criticized his actions as “unwise and untimely” (163).
In a logical and ethical approach, King replies by informing them that he would attempt to answer “[Their] statements in what [he] hope will be patient and [in] reasonable terms” (163). By doing this, King has accepted the clergymen as an equal peer and a ethically bound group of people. King’s emphasis for the need of equal respect at an equal level clearly extends to his audience. Since, King acknowledges his audience and fellow peers he is not alienating them at all. In actuality, King insists that his audience and his brethren Is in fact equal.
Moreover, King goes on to explain his purpose at Birmingham and how his organizational ties In Birmingham have requested him to utilize his method of nonviolent direct-action against racial delimitation. King reiterates his sole purpose of being “In Birmingham [is] because injustice is here” (164). Without directly attacking the practices at Birmingham is unjust. In the same fashion, King ethically insinuates the same point by comparing himself to Apostle Paul and other prophets that wanted freedom and equality.
Furthermore, King effectively relates to his audience by not only using rhetorical devices but also using biblical references to indirectly target the clergymen morals. The clergymen felt that King and his people were acting out and disturbing the peace instead of trying to negotiate with the city of Birmingham. What these clergymen failed to realize was that the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, had tried several times to negotiate with the city. However, a solution was never reached.
King’s use of logic points out that these clergymen were biased and only focused on aiding the white conservative community of Birmingham. Additionally, the clergymen clearly shows that they only concentrated on removing supporters of Martin Luther King Jar’s civil rights movement. King had insisted that “nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (165).
By saying this, King logically tells his audience that nonviolent direct action is the second necessary step to gaining African American’s their rights. Now that King has fully shown the clergyman’s pretense on racial segregation and call discrimination, King focuses primarily on the white conservative community of Birmingham. At this point, King uses pathos more than logos and ethos so that his audience can understand the effects of segregation. He begins by logically stating that African Americans “have waited for more than 340 years for [their] constitutional and God-given rights” (166).
He then emotionally tells his audience that “The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with Catlike speed toward gaining political independence but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter” (166). King shows his audience that it is unfair that other countries like Asia and Africa are able to fight for their freedom and soon obtain it yet, African Americans are forced to struggle to even get the simplest freedom of sitting at a lunch counter.
King’s emotional appeal shows that the white conservative community in Birmingham is being unjust. And since at this time, King knew that his audience thought that they were the most logical and ethical race, he effectively employed the use of logos and pathos that allowed them to see the sufferings that African Americans have retained from segregation. Moreover, King understood that to everyone has experienced the sufferings from segregation especially the white conservatives who enforced segregation upon them.
As a result, King attempts to illustrate a picture where his audience can visually see and feel “hate-filled police curse, kick and even kill [his] black brothers and sisters” (166). By illustrating this picture, King emotionally implies that it would be Just as unjust if the white community were oppressed by African Americans. It is much more effective and important that King unites and connects with his audience because by doing that, King is able to appeal to his audiences logic, ethics, authority, reputation and emotion. Had King used a different method of audience.
For instance, if King instead had implemented pathos; the appeal to emotion first the audience would have only felt sympathy towards him and the civil rights movement rather than actually making a difference. Moreover, if King had used ethos, the appeal to ethics first, the white conservative community would feel as if they are being attacked rather than informed of how unjust African Americans are being treated. And in that case, King would have made his audience feel obligated to fend themselves and a solution would not have been reached at all.
In summary, King was a very intelligent man for placing his arguments on the same scholarly and religious level as these clergymen. King’s use of language and rhetorical devices allowed him to refute their argument and Justify his actions during the civil rights movement. In fact, King’s rhetorical strategy is flawless because of his constant connection with his audience. This connection King established helped him illuminate his perspective and what he wanted in his letter. If King had used a different strategy it would not have been as effective.