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Essay: Martin Luther King Jr argued for peacefully protest for Americans

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Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and an activist who became one of the most prominent leaders and spokesperson in the Civil Rights Movement. King used tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience that was based on his Christian beliefs. King became known for his public speaking ability and continued to rise and speak within his ministry. King graduated from Morehouse with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and enrolled in Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity. After getting married to his wife, Coretta Scott King in 1953, King then began his Doctoral Studies in systematic theology at Boston University and graduated with a Ph.D. In 1957, King and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This group was created to organize the power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protest in the service of the civil rights reform. He was dedicated to this group and led the conference until the day he died. In April 1963, the SCLC began a campaign against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. King used nonviolent but confrontational tactics. During the protests, the Birmingham Police Department used police dogs and high-pressure water jets against the protestors (women and children included). King was arrested and jailed early in the campaign. From his cell, he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, which is a response to the calls of condemnation on the movement from the clergymen of Birmingham. These white clergymen are King’s main audience in his letter. Along with the clergymen’s disapproval, many critics of the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” believe as though King is an outsider when it comes to his presence in Birmingham, but in fact King establishes his credibility as an authority by using ethos towards his audience, then he uses pathos to show the emotional appeal through his teachings on the impact of segregation, and finally he justifies his goal for action to be set in place for racial unity as a leader for the Civil Rights Movement.

Throughout King’s letter, he uses ethos to establish his credibility as an authority towards racial injustice that is being taken place. He initially demonstrates his use of ethos by just simply stating “My Dear Fellow Clergymen” (411). By doing so, he is showing that he is no greater than them and they are no greater than him. They are of equal quality. At the beginning of the letter, he clarifies all the qualities that he and the conference entails. By doing so, he is proving to the audience and naysayers his purpose for being in Birmingham. The clergymen are whom naysayers in this letter would agree with. They are critics that question his purpose to be in Birmingham, but King argues back to defend himself. “Paradoxically, the more you give voice to your critics’ objections, the more you tend to disarm those critics, especially if you entertain a counterargument” (79). Which is just what King does. For example, King states, “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights” (412). He uses the background information on the conference and his role in the civil rights movement to demonstrate his use of ethos. King continues to talk about how he composed his letter during a time of deep segregation in the city of Birmingham (which at the time was one of the most segregated cities in the nation). King aims to use ethos to show his audience that he has credibility when it comes to injustice and how he is qualified on the topic of segregation. He in fact has dealt with it. As a child, King was said to suffer from depression because of the resentment he felt towards the whites due to the “racial humiliation” that he had to endure in the segregation around him. Not only is he researched on the topic but he has the establishment of credibility because he, himself, has dealt with it hands on.

King also uses pathos to show the emotional appeal through his teachings and experiences on the impact of segregation. He initially begins the use of pathos by stating, “But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here” (412).  He is showing his audience that, unfortunately there is a problem that we face with racial discrimination in our society today and it just so happens to be that Birmingham is at critical levels. King aims to show awareness for change throughout America. The effects of segregation also impact the younger generation. King gives an example of the negative impact when he states, “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’”(415). He is using the use of pathos in this quote to capture the emotion so that it can grasp to the listener’s attention. This specific quote shows just how much the children are being impacted. By giving this example, King is really trying to get the audience to see what the Black American are facing when segregation is in place. King uses his passive aggressive tone to express the helplessness and frustration that witnesses are feeling.

King ultimately justifies his goal for action to be set in place for racial unity to bring awareness to the clergymen of the abuse and neglect of the black community in Birmingham, Alabama. He uses a sincere tone to persuade the audience of his faith through the church that he will not give up. He has hope that Americans shall keep fighting on with peaceful protests and nonviolent acts. King acknowledges his goal by proclaiming, “I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny” (423). He uses bold and encouraging word choice when stating “I have no despair”, “I have no fear”, and “we will reach the goal”. These statements use a genuine tone by showing his passion to achieve racial unity in America. By simply reading the text, you can feel how authentic he is when he speaks about his hope and faith for the future. King concludes his essay by stating, “in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty” (425). In this quote King is applying the use of figurative language. “Figurative language, for figures of speech, can paint pictures in our minds, allowing us to “see” a point readily and clearly” (382). In the specific quote stated previously, the stars are given human-like qualities of love and brotherhood to get the audience to picture it more vividly and realistically. Overall, Kings ultimate goal is for everyone to come together and to end racial discrimination.

By establishing his credibility as an authority by using ethos towards his audience, using
pathos to show the emotional appeal through his teachings on the impact of segregation, and to justify his goal for action to be set in place for racial unity, King is proving that there is action that needs to be taken place and everyone in our world can make that change. The audience can then ultimately understand that his argument is to peacefully protest for Americans. By using these nonviolent acts we, as Americans, can end racial segregation and become one community, and one family, as though we are all equal.

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