As evidenced by the incredible “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” it’s clear that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a master at the art of language. To go along with his beautiful manner of speaking, he also had a great ability to argue his points, all the while being respectful and understanding of the opposition, which in this case was the clergymen. Throughout his letter, he sequentially disproved each of the five points that the clergymen presented, remaining courteous and civil with his counterarguments. The clergymen’s preposition of his demonstration being “unlawful” and the insipid idea that racial injustice was a “local matter” are especially exemplary of his argumentative abilities. He uses appeals to character, arguments of definition and many more rhetorical strategies in the effort to show the logical reasoning behind why he is fighting for equal rights.
Firstly, the clergymen came up with the idea that “nonviolent civil action is unlawful and unjust.” This, of course, is absurd. If anything, nonviolent civil action is more lawful and more just than its violent counterpart, and King recognized this fact. He returned with stating who he was, that being the serving president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization in every Southern state, one of which is in Alabama. The Conference’s Alabama affiliate requested King’s services, in fact, asking him to engage in a nonviolent direct action program, thus making his actions, and him simply being there, justified. Using an argument of definition, King defines the differences between something being either just or unjust, saying that something is unjust if it “degrades human personality, makes one group superior, or is immoral” (376). Using this definition what King is doing is far from “unjust” as the clergymen claimed. He is not degrading human personality, nor is making one group superior; in fact, he’s fighting against that very thing. Which begs the question, is what’s happening in Birmingham unjust? The answer, now, to that question is yes. But in 1963, when this letter was written, that was what was normal, unfortunately. They saw no flaw in their actions. Regardless, King’s definition for something that was “just” was something that followed “moral law, or the law of God,” (376) also further proving that these civil actions are nothing bad; they are simply people advocating for the rights of man in a supposedly equal opportunistic country. Another strategy that King uses to further prove his point is his professional diction. He asserts that he is “cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states” (372). He can’t just sit around doing nothing while he is aware of the problems occurring in Birmingham. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (372) he remarks. While speaking of his awareness, he also instills the idea that he knows what it is that he is arguing, he can’t just not do anything about this problem, what he’s doing is, in fact, just and lawful. It’s the laws themselves that are what’s unlawful and unjust. Finally, King closes his counterargument with a splash of tetracolon, describing the four steps of direct action, those being: collection of facts to determine whether or not injustices exist, proving that he is well informed; negotiation, showing that direct action is a final resort; self purification; and, finally, direct action itself. According to the masses, Birmingham was “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States” (373) which in and of itself proves a just reason to be there.
Furthermore, the clergymen insisted that racial injustice is simply a local matter to Birmingham, and that it was their job to fix it internally, not King to come in and do the job for them. As King had already pointed out, Birmingham was very