Martin Luther King Jr.: Letter Essay, Research Paper
Martin Luther King Jr.: Letter From the Birmingham Jail
On April 16th of 1963, an imprisoned Martin Luther King Jr. began to write a response to a letter that was published in a local newspaper from eight clergymen. These men scorned Dr. King s protests calling them unwise and untimely. Through his letter King expressed his ideas and reasons for his actions. Most of his ideas were influenced by the philosophies taught by Aristotle.
In the second and third paragraphs, Dr. King established his sincerity of his convictions and his reasons for being in Birmingham. He explained that he was in Birmingham because injustice is here. One of his most famous quotes stated a threat to justice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere. He continued to clarify why he was in Birmingham. In paragraph ten, King asked questions to the clergymen in an attempt to explain his ideas of non-violent protesting. His goal was to persuade the clergymen that what he was doing was the right thing. He said I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, non-violent tension which is necessary for growth. King used a significant metaphor to show the concern he has for his people s freedom in America. He stated The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at the lunch counter. Through this metaphor it was apparent that he was demonstrating his concern for social change. Then, King continued to show his disdain towards those who wished for King to be passive, proving to them that they did not know the fear of being African-American. He did this through examples of torment that were inflicted on the blacks. Further into this document, King set up his argument for defying the laws that the government had imposed upon the African-Americans. He explained through St. Augustine s teachings that unjust law is no law at all. He continues to explain this in detail until paragraph 22 where, he used the example of Hitler s Germany and the legality of the extermination of the Jews, which of course was unjust but legal. He, then, continued by stressing his regret for those who wrote the letter. He described that it was not only the oppression from the White Power groups, but from white moderate groups as well. He continued to explain his actions and justified his hurry towards accomplishing his goals. He attempted to enlighten the clergymen that his actions were the only ones being taken to prevent violent uprisings among the black freedom groups. He referenced to other extremists in paragraph 31 to make it hard for the clergymen to counter-attack. King enlightened the clergymen of extremists that they were familiar with, such as; Jesus, Paul, Luther, as well as others who were all motivated by love and Christianity, much like himself. He ended his argument about being an extremist in paragraph 32. He, then, displayed his frustration towards the white churches and their passivity. Furthermore, he conveyed his disappointment in paragraphs 45,46, and 47 for the praise the clergymen gave to the police and their actions.
Dr. King established his ideas through the teachings and lessons of many philosophers. King was an idealist, much like Gandhi, who constructed the idea of non-violent protests and Aristotle, who came up with the ethos. According to Aristotle, ethos, should achieve to have virtue, good will, and practical wisdom. Through his letter, King does an exceptional job at presenting each ethos.
The most difficult ethos for him to prove was that of virtue, since he had been arrested and jailed. Through the first ten paragraphs King uses his history to set up his credibility. Through the use of the Bible, King is able to convey, to the clergymen, that he is a virtuous and holy man. His argument, that he is not an extremist, revolves around the idea that the government had given he and his people the justice they deserve. So, while King is in jail he writes to the clergymen, who have condemned his actions, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. Throughout the letter, King does an excellent job of supporting his actions, while never admitting that what he did was not the best mode of action. He confirms that he is a virtuous man through his understanding of where he is, and also the situation he is facing.
While establishing his virtuous nature to the clergymen, he also demonstrates his wisdom. He does so by quoting from many historical figures such as Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, as well as many other well-known leaders and reformers. He also shows a substantial knowledge of the laws. His core argument focuses on the justice, which is a G-d given right that he and his people were not receiving. This idea is supported through the use of court cases and historical situations that are relevant to his argument. This allows the clergymen to understand better from where King s argument grows.
Still, there is the act of good will. King s good will is toward changing the injustice that is shown to his race. He devoted his life and the lives of those around him for his cause. He jeopardized the safety of his family, community, and African-American s around the South.
A contemporary example of a moral thing to do, but still is illegal could be viewed through a poor family. A father who steals food to feed his family because he is unable to get a job by living in a place he is persecuted, such as Nazi Germany or Communist Russia. This idea came to me from a movie I once saw called Demolition Man. The movie portrays the future as a utopia where there is no crime, only peace and prosperity. A certain figure, which lives in the sewers, attempts to rob a Taco Bell truck of its food. He is doing so to feed the families that did not wish to conform to the new utopian society. I believe that it is ok to steal food for your family, if there is no means with which you can obtain a job.