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Skylaar Underwood

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King Jr.s Letter from Birmingham Jail is a

personal correspondence argument sent to eight white religious

leaders of the South as a response to a public statement regarding

their concerns and cautions they issued. The conventions of this genre

help to determine the depth, complexity, and the appearance of Kings

argument by allowing the clergymen to realize the intentions of his


The eight religious leaders argued that Martin Luther King Jr.s

recent actions were unwise and untimely; however, King argued the

opposite. He believed that there was never a wrong time to bring

about justice. Also, King discussed the belief that his actions were

untimely. He explained how there has not been a single gain in civil

rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. He also states

that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom; it must be

demanded by the oppressed. Martin Luther King Jr. attempts to show

the clergymen that his actions, his nonviolent actions, were intended to

speed up the process of blacks getting rights and being granted

freedom that they rightfully deserve.

Also, the clergymen described King as an outsider coming in,

but King explained in his letter that there were many reasons for him

to be in Birmingham. One, he was invited by The Southern Christian

Leadership Conference, a group in which he was the president of. King

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described himself as being compelled to carry the gospel of freedom

beyond my particular hometown. Secondly, King wanted to bring

about justice. He stated that he and his followers have gone through all

the steps to carry out a nonviolent campaign for justice. They collected

facts to determine whether injustices were alive, they negotiated; they

self purified, and they took direct action. Throughout Martin Luther

King Jr.s letter there are many dualities discussed. He presents the

idea of the oppressed versus the oppressor. His whole letter is a

representation of whites versus blacks. King also discusses the

difference between his actions, which are nonviolent, and those that

are violent.

Although the clergymen feel as though Kings actions were

untimely, King argues that if his repressed emotions do not come out in

these nonviolent ways, then they will eventually come out in ominous

expressions of violence. He states, oppressed people cannot remain

oppressed forever. Martin Luther King Jr. recognizes that Christians

went through roughly two thousand years of being criticized for their

beliefs and that it took them a long time to be recognized and

accepted in society; however, King believes that time is neutral and

without tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be

coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an

ally of the forces of social stagnation. Also, the clergymen define King

as an extremist, which King gains satisfaction from. A statement that

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was supposed to be insulting to King and his actions actually ended up

giving Kings side of the argument more evidence. King shows how

many outstanding people in history were extremist including, Abraham

Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and even Jesus Christ. He explains how the

question is not whether or not to be an extremist, but what kind of

extremist to be. Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice,

or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? King also explains

how even though the clergymen and their followers do not see the

urgency in Kings cause and his actions to support it, there are many

whites that do. He gives examples of people who have put forth effort

in helping blacks gain freedom and justice. They, unlike many of their

moderate brothers, have recognized the urgency of the moment and

sensed the need for powerful action antidotes to combat the disease

of segregation.

Martin Luther King Jr.s Letter from Birmingham Jail is an

argument addressed to eight white religious leaders of the South as a

response to their criticisms of his actions. They called his actions

unwise as well as untimely. King gives many reasons and evidence

arguing that although they do have some valid points his actions were

necessary in order to progress the process of blacks getting the

freedom and justice that they rightfully deserve.