Thursday, March 14, 2013

Illustrious Words

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Illustrious Words

Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama in 16 at a sit-in demonstration. He came to the town of Birmingham to help his African-American brothers receive the rights and dreams that they had always deserved. While in jail, he wrote the influential “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. This letter is historical in every sense of the word. From his language and knowledge, to his extensive heartfelt experiences, this man was well-educated and beyond his time. The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is an excellent example of influential and groundbreaking literature, written by Martin Luther King, Jr., and is one of the most well-written documents that I have had the pleasure of reading.

King addresses this letter to his fellow clergymen. This is a great way to create an audience and to also speak to the rest of the nation. Throughout the letter, King brings up oppositions and answers these with great eloquence and charm. When answering the opposition that people do not like the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham, King replies, “It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the [African-American] community with no alternative” (704). Over and over again, King brings in an argument against him and shuts it down like it is nothing. This kind of argumentation provides the public with the idea that he is not afraid to face the white world and will someday get the life that he deserves.

Right at the beginning of the letter, King identifies himself and tells exactly who he is and why he was in Birmingham in the first place. By stating that he was the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and that he had affiliated organizations throughout the south, King establishes his credentials and shows that he is a great authority on the topic (70). It especially made me trust him for presenting this information at the beginning. The audience can indisputably see that he has nothing to hide.

One theme throughout this letter is quite obvious. Definitions and metaphors fill the paper to give understanding and great effectiveness. When opposing to the accusation of using tension and direct action instead of negotiation, King replies

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, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. (705)

This metaphor was so strong that a person can actually feel what he was thinking and believe every word he wrote. Martin Luther King, Jr. is extremely good at making metaphors coincide with his argument.

Also, definitions are used throughout the letter quite frequently. One of my favorite definitions was the one that described unjust laws as a code that a minority group must follow because a majority or power group imposes it on them, even though they do not have to follow this law themselves (707). It is nice when someone points out the obvious oversights that everyone knows about, but do not do anything about. This makes the audience really evaluate their lifestyle.

Another common trend within the letter is King’s use of logic and facts to make readers get a feeling of what is going on. He describes Birmingham’s mayoralty election to tell what kinds of people were being elected to govern the racist city. When speaking about Albert Boutwell being elected as the new mayor, King says that he is “a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor (the previous mayor)”, but that he is also a “segregationist, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo” (705). I think that by telling the facts of what is really going on, King positively makes the public understand and listen to the words that he is writing. He has a way of spelling out the truth that some do not want to accept or comprehend.

Although Martin Luther King, Jr. has many effective ways of arguing, his strategy to make us feel like we know exactly what he is talking about, and can relate to his people, is outstanding. He appeals to shared values throughout the letter to establish kindred thinking. I almost felt tears in my eyes when I approached paragraph fourteen. King replies to the people that tell him to “wait” for equality with his thirty lines of sadness and anger (706). He conjures up the feeling of utter despair with phrases like, “…when [we have seen viscous mobs lynch [our] mothers and fathers at will and drown [our] sisters and brothers at whim…then [we] will understand why we find it difficult to wait” (706). I now know how horrible these times and conditions must have been. This man reached my heart with these troubling details. The paragraph was an exceptional way of reaching into the audience’s heart.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this historical letter to evoke action and create an understanding for people by his amazing words and strengths in argumentation. Maybe later on in my life, I will read a piece of literature that will delve into the deepest parts of my soul and pull out the feelings that I have just recently experienced, but until then, the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” will take this place. Martin Luther King, Jr. sums it up best with, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our feardrenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty” (710). I have a feeling that somehow, this man’s dream might not be too far around the corner.

Works Cited

King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Ed Gary Goshgarian and Kathleen Kruegar. Crossfire An Argument Rhetoric and Reader. nd ed. New York Longmam, 17. 701-11.

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