College Composition II- Toliver
13 February 2019
Summary and Analysis of King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, which was later published in King’s book “Why We Can’t Wait”, in response to criticism of nonviolent protests that took place in Birmingham, Alabama on Easter weekend 1963. King was taken into custody on April 16, 1963 for parading without a permit while marching in support of desegregation. While detained, King received a public statement from eight white clergymen who describe King’s actions as “unwise and untimely” and condemned the “outsiders coming in.”
Dr. King begins the letter by calling the clergymen “men of genuine goodwill” and acknowledges the sincerity of concern that sets a tone of “reasonable” dialogue. King first states why he is in Birmingham; “injustice is here.” King explains “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and that he “cannot sit idly by... and not be concerned about the events taking place in Birmingham.” According to King, there are four basic steps in any nonviolent campaign: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. King maintains that the group of activists has followed all of these steps in Birmingham. Dr. King states “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Rev. King then goes on to describe the many things that African-Americans have to go through on a daily basis and explains why the group is protesting and speaking out against segregation. King gives many different kinds of evidence to back up the content of the letter including anecdotes, pathos, and the names of various well-known people.
King concludes the letter by wishing the clergymen had commended the Negro sit-inners instead of reprimanding them. King states “If I have said anything...that overstates the truth...I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth...I beg God to forgive me.”
In Letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. King points to a number of historical figures so as to support his line of action. In the letter, King talks about Jesus who was branded as an “extremist for love” and who was crucified for his beliefs. Paul, an avid follower of Jesus who is credited with the early spreading the Christian gospel is also featured in the letter. The German priest, Martin Luther, who was responsible for standing up against some of the practices of the ancient Roman Catholic Church, is also referenced. Mr. King also refers to John Bunyan who was imprisoned for his beliefs and willingly stayed in jail rather than going against all he stood for. The United States president Abraham Lincoln who supported the abolishment of slavery is also referenced in King’s letter. The letter also cites Thomas Jefferson whose words in the Declaration of Independence maintain that all men are created equal. All of ...