Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail--a rhetorical analysis
In the following text, here is the color key:
Purple: the opposition's arguments
Red: use of an emotional appeal or pathos
Green: use of appeal to authority or reputation or ethos
Blue: use of an appeal to logic or logos
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This response to a published statement by eight fellow clergymen from Alabama (Bishop C. C.
J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Holan B. Harmon,
the Reverend George M. Murray. the Reverend Edward V. Ramage and the Reverend Earl Stallings) was composed
under somewhat constricting circumstance. Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared
while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly Negro trusty, and
concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me. Although the text remains in substance
unaltered, I have indulged in the author's prerogative of polishing it for publication.
April 16, 1963
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail
I came across your recent statement calling my present activities
"unwise and untimely."
Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas.
If I sought to answer all the
criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in
the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work
. But since
I feel that you are men of genuine
good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth
I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will
be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues
against "outsiders coming in."
I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some
eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for
. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago
the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were
deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise.
So I, along with
several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here
Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C.
their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and
just as the
left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman