Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a distressing look into the racial inequalities of the 60’s in America. The aim of King was to address the concern of the clergy about the timing and wisdom of peaceful demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, carried out by King among other leaders. Of the three appeals employed by King, pathos and ethos influence the readers the most in his work. The letter expresses emotional confusion, evokes the feelings of indignation, pride, and empathy. The first reaction to the letter is based on the sense of guiltiness by what King describes as “the oppressor race”. I strongly feel that I am part of the people classified as oppressors. After reading the letter, I started feeling empathy for the black community.
I agree with Martin Luther King that crimes committed against the previous generations of Africans can be accounted on the later generations of white people. This concept creates another sense of empathy for the modern African Americans. In his letter, Dr. King creates several real-life challenges that people face due to their skin color. He designs various opportunities to be played by his audience. For instance, King narrates:
… 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….
For me personally, this part, as well as many others, creates a heartbreaking scene in my mind. I imagine the innocence exercised by young colored children who do not even understand what their color means and why it dictates certain rules.
Martin Luther King’s ability to convince the readers to look at their children from his perspective guarantees support for the situation. Even the whites who read King’s letter start to blame racial discrimination. Additionally, the letter was written from a parental approach. Dr. King tried to make people put themselves in his place and feel what he felt. The use of a parental approach is a powerful tool to help everybody understand that racial discrimination is a social injustice.
Moreover, indignation was another emotion that I experienced when reading the letter. I felt sorry for African Americans when Martin Luther King talked about the dishonorable methods used to bar the Negro community from registering as voters throughout Alabama counties where they formed the population majority. African Americans continued to endure extreme hardships in that land. Since they did not have vote rights, they remained powerless to initiate any change in the system. When reading the letter, I was shocked by such humiliation. I learnt that African Americans were treated as inferior people. They were denied the basic constitutional human rights and representational rights. I find such discrimination unjust and inhumane.
Another case of injustice that angered me was the story of King’s arrest. He states in his letter:
I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
Based on this concept, it is clear that African American citizens still struggle to gain equality. America was founded on equality, so why would one be arrested for improper parading? From Martin Luther King’s words I understand that since African American citizens were denied justice, they had no option but to hold peaceful demonstrations. The letter reveals a great sense of pain and suffering endured by African Americans in the USA. King’s letter is full of lessons for all human races. It serves as an example of how one should properly execute justice. When reading the work, I pitied African American citizens who suffered racial discrimination. “Letter from a Birmingham jail” is a work that clearly demonstrates what the black community underwent fifty years ago.
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