“Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

On April 19, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) wrote a detailed letter from Birmingham Jail in reply to some public releases which were directed at undermining his fight for civil equality. Most of the Martin Luther statements were very rhetorical, whereby he employed Aristotle’s kinds of persuasion to convince his audience. He made use of ethos, pathos, and logos, which are directed towards his own reputation and wisdom, to have the attention of the audience and to have the logic of influential thinkers, respectively. This “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis Essay aims at defining a list of rhetorical devices used in the letter with examples.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis of the First Paragraphs

Rhetorical devices are present from the first paragraph. In his efforts to promote civil rights on behalf of the American community, he starts by explaining his state of confinement in the jail, which is a clear indication of how the poor are suffering in the hands of an unjust society. He further states that he would wish to respond to their recent statements that his activities are unwise and untimely. This is meant to let the clergymen understand that Martin Luther King Jr. was well aware of their mind.

He proceeds to say that if he decided to look at each criticism that comes through his office, he would have no time for his work. In this statement, Luther King wants to let his critics know that his civil rights work is far much significant than the criticism they have been directing towards him and that they would rather concentrate on their work since he has no time to direct towards their attacks. He also terms their criticism as genuine and set forth as a way of showing them that he can understand the reason behind their criticism.

He further indicates in the second paragraph the fact that the clergymen have an issue with outsiders coming into the city, whereby he intends to let them know that though they are against him, many are on his side since he states that it was an invitation.

This again appears in the fourth paragraph, where he says that as long as a person is within the United States, no one should claim that he is an outsider. He also states that “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian leadership conference” (King 1) to show them he equally holds a religious leadership position as they do, and he has the right to exercise his faith.

What Type of Appeal Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Using from the Third to Fifth Paragraphs?

In the third paragraph, he likens himself with Paul to make it clear that he is a prophet of freedom and liberation, just like Paul. Claiming that he has been sent by Jesus shows that he has a very high authority in the religious field, and though people may be against him, God is on his side. Just as Jesus sent his disciples all over the world to take the gospel, Martin Luther makes it clear that he came to Birmingham due to the injustice that was prevailing.

In the fourth paragraph, Martin Luther says that “moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states” (King 2). He wanted to have his audience understand that he belonged to the congregation of the elites, and he has sufficient wisdom to put his opinions across. When he mentions the city’s white power structure, he wanted to trigger the mind of his critics who were only concerned with the demonstrations that were taking place rather than the reason behind these demonstrations.

In the fifth paragraph, he proceeds to mention that “the ugly records of brutality” (King 2) in Birmingham are widely known. This further insisted that his critics were less concerned with the more critical issues such as injustice that Negroes were facing in the city by trying to hinder those who were fighting for this justice. It is evident since even after he had taken the legal steps towards all his activities, he was still being discriminated against.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis from the Seventh to Fourteenth Paragraphs

In the seventh paragraph, he states that ‘we were victims of a broken promise’ to show that regardless of the agreement they had made earlier on to remove any sign of racial discrimination, the rest were not concerned apart from his assembly. In paragraph eight, he says that “our hopes had been blasted and the shadows of deep disappointment settled upon us” (King 4).

This shows that the King would recognize the faults but does not wish to blame anyone. The phrase “that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood” (King 4) was meant to unite all people in the fight against racism.

Rhetorical Analysis of the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” shows that In the fourteenth paragraph, King uses his logical, non-threatening appeal to show the urgency of his civil right actions in the city. He puts it clear that people have endured long enough and that there are now becoming impatient with the way events are unfolding every day. He supports his argument in the next paragraph, where he puts it across that they have been governed by a combination of unjust and just law whereby there is a need to separate the two.


The above discussion is just but a few of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” rhetorical appeals representations. Throughout his letter, King uses strong, almost unquestionable logic that makes his piece of writing very outstanding due to its unique method of development.

Work Cited

King Luther. Letter from Birmingham Jail. Stanford University, 1964. Web.

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