“Letter from Birmingham Jail” is an open letter written by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. It was created during Dr. King’s stay in the Birmingham jail after his arrest for his participation in demonstrations against segregation. In it, he addresses the concerns related to these activities that were expressed in a public statement by eight Southern White religious leaders. In a respectful and polite manner, Martin Luther King Jr. argumentatively supports the necessity of non-violent protests. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the letter and evaluate its relevance in relation to modern events. The analysis will imply a thorough review of the text in order to identify ideas in support of the main thesis. All in all, Dr. King wants to show that fighting against oppression is just and inevitable regardless of the excuses and justification for oppressors’ violence. At the same time, it is obvious that the letter’s notions may be applied to the modern protests of Black people in the United States.
First of all, it is necessary to mention the cordial tone of the letter. Expressing the significance of compassion and humility for him as a faithful Christian, Dr. King writes his letter as a rational dialogue with clergymen with respect to them and their words. At the same time, along with arguments, his tone may be regarded as proof that white leaders are wrong in calling protesters brutal and violent. However, regardless of all cordiality, Martin Luther King Jr. addresses criticism and provide counterargument with complete confidence in his words and actions. In this case, he demonstrates the necessity to confront oppression and the time for it has come.
The persuasive power of this letter is also determined by its author’s ability to provide evidence in support of his position. For instance, he writes: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come” (King Jr. 4). Being a president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King has deep knowledge of history, history of Christianity, and the Bible, and he uses his knowledge to support his arguments. In particular, he compares Black Americans with early Christians who were also regarded as the enemies of traditional order and freedom with actions that precipitated the violence. In addition, he reminds that Black protesters are the citizens of the United States who substantially contributed to the country’s well-being being humiliated and oppressed. While unjust laws are applied to them, and changes are proposed to be replaced by waiting while time is neutral without actions, resistance to these conditions becomes inevitable and reasonable.
In general, in a highly structured and persuasive manner, Dr. King addresses concerns focusing on the causes and effects of oppression. First of all, he mentions that “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States,” and people there are regularly oppressed by authorities (King Jr. 1). Subsequently, he states that negotiations took place and demonstrations were regularly postponed in favor of White leaders, however, the protesters’ desire of peaceful regulation was ignored. Moreover, he describes how segregation impacts Black people, and asking them to wait or applying unjust and immoral laws against them leads to demonstrations. Finally, Dr. King expresses his disappointment with the Church that did not protect Blacks as people equal to Whites. All these factors contributed to protests as people wanted to protect their human rights.
As D, King mentions early Christians and compares them with Black Americans, he wants to show that the history of oppression is timeless. Indeed, his words may be supported by current events related to the Black Likes Matter movement. It was a response to the structural racism that still exists in the United States, in other words, Blacks have fewer opportunities in multiple spheres of life, including education, employment, accommodation, and health care. In addition, they are more vulnerable to police brutality, also described by Dr. King. At the same time, although discrimination against Black Americans had existed for a long period of time, authorities still had an opportunity to negotiate and come to a peaceful solution as the movement was created in 2012 while violent protests began in 2020 (Campbell). This means that the issues of oppression were ignored, thus, people had no choice instead of fighting against their oppressors.
To conclude, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” may be regarded as a rational and argumentative dialogue between people who support and reject segregation. In this letter, Martin Luther King Jr. states that oppression cannot exist forever and that a fight for human rights is inevitable and morally just. In a cordial though confident manner, he proves that non-violent demonstrations were necessary to attract the attention of authorities and initiate actions, and they were caused by discrimination, police brutality, and the ignorance of Blacks’ patience and desire to negotiate. The timelessness of Dr. King’s ideas is demonstrated by the Black Lives Matter movement. Continuous discrimination, limited opportunities, and ignorance of police brutality-related issues led to non-violent and violent protests as other solutions were absent.
Campbell, Adina. “What Is Black Lives Matter and What Are the Aims?” BBC News, 2021.
King Jr., Martin Luther. Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963.