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    Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail

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    Discuss Dr. King’s restraint in the letter, what does it reveal with regard to his purpose, and what is its effect to you, the reader?

    In the “Letter”, Dr. King heavily uses restraint to convey his message while earning a sympathetic ear from the audience the letter is addressed. The letter is a response to the people who had branded Dr. King as an extremist. Restraint tone is used throughout the letter to show that the ongoing protests were appropriate. Through this tone, King’s interest was to show that the movement was not reckless but had specific goals to achieve. He stated, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” This statement shows that injustice was a way of life, and there was a need to change the status quo and treat every person equally. He maintained this tone by appealing to ethos, logos, and pathos. For example, King appeals to the audience’s emotion and generates feelings when he stated that “when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness.” The desire to eliminate injustice, King, had to utilize restraint tone.

    Further, the use of restraint in the “Letter” allows King to reinforce the central theme, the value of humanity. King viewed humanity from a unique point of view, which seems to be unacceptable by the majority. The motive to improve humanity is depicted by the way he views the existing law. King stated, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” His actions are different from those of the opponents due to different perspectives on racial differences. For instance, King believes that humans should be responsible and care for others. The use of restraint to generate sympathy from the audience is effective in presenting this argument. The point is that King was interested in showing clergymen that injustice was derailing the well-being of other people and society at large. Accordingly, the fact that King’s argument is confrontational means that he had to practically use a tone accompanied by logos to convey the message. To the reader, the use of restraint tone makes it possible to understand the pride of embracing extremism and tension when the potential outcomes would be beneficial.

    How does the “letter’ deal with the subjects of race, justice, and moderation?

    The subjects of race, justice, and moderation constitute the central theme of the “Letter.” In regards to race, King believes that his perspective of humanity is unique from that of other clergymen because of racial differences. The subject of race is unveiled through King’s presentation of the interrelationship of people and the prevailing of justice. King recalls that “certain promises were made by the merchants – for example, to remove the store’s humiliating racial signs.” The statement shows that the immediate society was built on racial signs, which turned to have adverse consequences for the black people. He develops his argument based on individual races. Thus, even negotiation could not eliminate the instinct created by the existing racial signs. The subject of race allows the author to speak about other subjects, such as justice and moderation.

    Evidently, it seems that King’s primary interest was to focus on the issues associated with justice. The intent of writing the letter aimed at persuading and convincing both the clergymen and other audiences to support King’s action and improve justice for every person regardless of racial differences. Although blacks greatly felt injustice, King believed that his cause was the right thing to do to protect all people. In fact, King, himself, is a victim of injustice, and he is using the letter to convey a message that could create a better environment for everyone. To persuade and convince the audience about his cause of action, King disclosed that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Thus, injustice felt by black people is more likely to expand and affect other people, including the whites. This would mean that controlling injustice might be a starting point for improving justice to everyone.

    The third subject addressed in the letter is the white moderate. King argues that the main stumbling block of the Negro’s battle towards freedom is “the white moderate.” According to King, the white people valued “order” more than “justice.” In other words, the white moderate “prefers negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” In the absence of white moderation, black people are more likely to achieve freedom. Accordingly, in the presence of white moderates, the black man can survive in a white-dominated society due to the traditional definition of both justice and morality. These survival tactics are implicit since, in a society that believes in justice and morality, people tend to operate with just ideals. However, King maintains that those people perpetrating oppression through moderation will be punished just laws.

    Discuss Dr. King’s use of allusions throughout the letter’s text.

    The letter is filled with a variety of religious texts and secular theories. The extensive adoption and use of these allusions reveals King’s knowledge about fundamental aspects of justice. Religious allusions serve various purposes. First, King uses religious texts to show that humans exhibit a firm relationship. For example, he narrates that “as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.” These words reveal that the relationship between people is not just for existence but also for aid. There is a need for people to be responsible and take care of each other if the situation demands. King draws on religious allusions to persuade and convince his fellow clergymen and the extended audience to accommodate each other.

    The use of secular traditions can be used to reveal King’s belief in creating a more comfortable environment for every person regardless of race and other obstructing factors. The secular theory is applied when King uses the text of famous people from different backgrounds and contexts. For example, King describes the meaning of just and unjust laws by revisiting theories of famous people such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Socrates, Paul Tillich, and St. Augustine, among others. Accordingly, he revisits cases such as the legislature of Alabama, the First-Amendment and Hitler’s era, among others, to explain the application of laws. Besides, King uses the “White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner” to explain that moderation initiated by the whites has limited the blacks’ potential to strive towards freedom. The importance of these texts is that they allow the audience to conclude that King’s argument is not meant for self-interest rather than the interest of the majority.

    In what ways do Dr. King’s repeated references to Socrates help elucidate his overall approach?

    Socrates’ illusion is highly portrayed in the letter. It is a rhetorical method used to justify an argument from opponent’s perspective. King based on Socrates’ idea to make his argument. King makes his point by speaking in his opponent, clergymen, language. King understands that other clergymen are for ‘orders’ and not justice, and he is obliged to use their language to enhance their understanding as far as the issues of injustice and moderations are concerned. This makes him not to offer direct answers to the existing problem but to create an opportunity to derive appropriate solutions. For instance, King questions, “Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?” The question was developed from the ongoing application of Alabama’s legislature that prevented Negroes from becoming registered voters. This illusion helps to create sense in the audience.

    Further, King repeatedly refers to Socrates to defend his cause of action from the clergymen’s criticism. In the letter, it is evident that King’s opponents have ideas that are misguided and do not support tranquility and humanity for all citizens regardless of their race. King asserts that “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.” This statement is very precise and carries a heavy message about a society controlled by the clergymen. Similarly, the statement suggests a contradiction among clergymen. He uses clergymen’s language to show that even though they have been at the center of controlling society, they remained ineffective in moderating it and promising justice to all people. In summary, King utilizes the Socrates method to show that clergymen’s argument about justice to all people is misguided and serves a few people at the cost of others.

    Detail the distinctions between just and unjust laws. Why is it important Dr. King make this distinction?

    King spends a significant time to describe the meaning of just and unjust laws. He draws an explanation from various famous people, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, to support his argument. From a general point of view, King defines a just and unjust law. He stated, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” Drawing from St. Thomas Aquinas’ assertions, King disclosed that a just law improves human personality. These laws are not associated with any form of segregation. They ensure justice is served to all people. On the other hand, unjust laws are those that degrade human personality. Segregation is part of these laws because it is sinful and unmoral. An unjust law damages not only personality but also destroys the human soul.

    Dr. King distinguishes between just and unjust laws to show the audience that the existing laws do not serve all people in totality. That is, there are those that are suffering because of some laws. In other words, King seems to claim that the existing laws do not reflect morality. Besides, even though people appreciate the presence and value of others by accepting the virtue of morality, it remains the fact that some laws and mainly unjust laws demean a section of people. Through this distinction, it is evident that King was determined to promote justice for everyone. However, this achievement could be earned when individuals, regardless of their races, take the initiative to promote justice and eliminate injustices directed to black people. Apparently, black people are not the only group of people who can suffer from injustices of the existing law. This explains why King wants clergymen and the public to be responsible for each other.


    • Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Retrieved 14 March 2020, from

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    Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. (2021, May 11). Retrieved from

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