Martin Luther King Jr.’s Persuasive Tactics: “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

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Sarah Beadle

Writing 100

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Persuasive Tactics: “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a letter written in response to the Clergymen of the city of Birmingham. Dr. King wrote about all of the points the Clergymen had written about in the letter, however; he wrote about them from his point of view. One of the quotes that Dr. King quoted in his response letter that is powerful was originally said by St. Augustine, which is “an unjust law is no law at all” (King, p. 434). This quote has a great impact on the readers of this article because it is a quote that most everyone can agree with. Martin Luther quoted other famous people and biblical references in this letter to help make his argument stronger, the argument that change needs to occur in a nonviolent matter and that everyone should have equal rights. Throughout this letter, Dr. King created quotes that he is known for saying such as “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King, p. 430). In this article, Martin Luther King uses quotes from other famous people, key phrases, and real life stories to persuade the reader to understand his point of view.

Martin Luther used a handful of quotes from other influential individuals to help persuade the views of the reader. One of the quotes Martin Luther used to help persuade was the quote said by St. Thomas Aquinas, “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law” (King, p. 434). This quote is a very powerful quote that is plain and simple. It is used effectively by Martin Luther King Jr. and helps get the message across that an unjust law is not actually a law at all. The use of this quote helped make this argument stronger at that moment in the letter because the quote was the opener to the part of the essay about unjust laws. This part of the essay went on for approximately two pages of the letter. The fact that Martin Luther used this quote helped get his point across faster and effectively. Other quotes that are used to help persuade the readers are a various collection of quotes on page 438. A limitless amount of people are quoted including John Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. All of these quotes suggest that everyone is equal and that they have done all they can to make equality a part of everyday life. The use of quoting a group of people helps persuade the masses that read this article because most people who have read the article recognize at least one of the names of the people quoted. All of the people who are quoted are respectable people who most individuals agree with. These views towards the people quoted help make the quotes credible and influential throughout the letter, however; Martin Luther King Jr. had a few phrases of his own he incorporated to make the piece of literature persuasive.

The way Martin Luther King Jr. phrased words helped convince the readers of this article to agree with his point of view. The first example is the most quoted line from this article, which is “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King, p. 430). The order of words in this sentence has a great impact on the meaning of the words. If the quote was instead “Justice everywhere is threatened by injustice everywhere”, the quote would not have as much of an impact because some people may believe that the quote sounds funky and out of place. This famous quote is concise and has a powerful meaning behind it. Another quote that Dr. Luther created is “…we were the victims of a broken promise”(King, p. 431). This quote has an impact on the reader because the reader can relate to the quote and put themselves in Dr. King’s shoes throughout the quote and the letter. Everyone has been “a victim of a broken promise” at least once in his or her life, even if it was not as enormous as Dr. King’s. This assumed knowledge of all people in society allowed him to write a quote that the reader was able to relate to. Since the reader was able to relate to his quotes, Dr. King used real life examples in his letter that people could relate to.

Martin Luther used real life stories and examples to help persuade people to see things from his point of view. An example of this is when Martin Luther King Jr. talks about his personal experience where he told his daughter that she could not go to Funtown because it was closed to colored people (King, p. 433). Every parent at that moment who cared about taking their children out to amusement parks or pleasing their children knows what it is like to tell their children that they are not allowed to go. The children are miserable and upset because they are not allowed to go and have fun with everyone else. However; this quote hits home harder to the parents of the miserable children because the only reason Dr. King’s daughter is not allowed to go to amusement park is because of her skin color. Some parents do not allow their children to go to amusement parks because their children were misbehaving or because the parents believe that amusement parks are bad places. In this situation, nevertheless; Dr. King’s daughter does not have the right to go to the amusement park. The use of this story was a good persuasive tactic to get others to agree with him because the general public can relate to that situation. Another example of this is when Dr. King talks about the police of Birmingham and what they have done to his friends and other African-American’s in the community. Dr. King talked about how the women and girls were pushed around by the police and how the prisoners were not given any food because all they wanted to do was sing grace together (King, p. 442). This story impacts others who read it because they can relate to these situations themselves. Religious families can relate to this example because most of them pray before dinner and cannot imagine what it would be like to not pray before dinner. Some white Americans may have imagined what it would be like to be without food only because they weren’t allowed to express their religious beliefs, which could have pulled on some heartstrings. This example is very relatable and a good story to use when trying to persuade others and have them place themselves in the shoes of the prisoners because it is relatable to many citizens. Martin Luther King Jr. knows how to sway the public to believe his point of view.

Throughout the essay, Martin Luther King Jr. uses various persuasive techniques and tactics to have the public see and understand his point of view, even if they do not agree with it. The letter is a very powerful piece of literature that people to this very day still appreciate and use when writing persuasive essays. The use of the numerous techniques such as telling stories, quoting famous citizens, and creating powerful dialogue has created an irreplaceable piece of literature. Even the best authors, English majors, and creative writers have trouble writing a piece of literature as powerful as this. This work is impeccable, which makes it hard to believe it was originally written on napkins. The clergymen were not expecting such a polished and professional response letter from Martin Luther King Jr., or an effective response letter than made the reader think about all of the hardships African Americans were going through at the time. Martin Luther King Jr. got his beliefs across to the citizens of the United States that helped start a change in the American society in the 1960’s. The change was a great one that could not have been accomplished without this letter.

Works Cited

King, Martin Luther Jr. Response. Letter from Birmingham Jail. April 16th, 1963. Print.

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