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Martin Luther King

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Rhetorical Analysis of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s

"Letter from Birmingham Jail"

In his essay "Letter from Birmingham Jail", Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. disproves the assumptions of people that believe racism is acceptable when he compares the maltreatment of blacks to the inhumane treatment of the Jews by Hitler. King establishes a relationship with his audience by connecting on a level that is larger than the exploitation of African American's rights. He forces his readers to think about the execution of millions of Jews that was ordered by Hitler. He makes it logically apparent in his letter that just because segregation is a law, it does not mean that it is just. These strong words by King help establish a common ground between himself and the reader that forces them to think about the immorality and injustice of their decisions. His thoughts and feelings are synonymous with the suffering experienced by African Americans in America during the civil rights movement.

King directly compares people who favor segregation to Adolf Hitler, and people in favor of equality to the Hungarian freedom fighters. By assigning such a bold title to the people who favor segregation he forces them to think about their position in the civil rights movement and also helps them realize that their actions are comparable to those of Hitler. By comparing himself and other pro-civil rights activists to the Hungarian freedom fighters, he shows a sign of pride in knowing that what he is doing is right.

King also establishes a common ground with his audience by showing that while what Hitler was doing was "legal", it was by all means very unethical. In addition he writes about how the Hungarian freedom fighters were committing "illegal" acts by supporting Jews in Germany. By no stretch of the imagination could Hitler's acts be deemed "legal" and the support given to the Jews by the Hungarians "illegal" in any rational society. King compels his readers to make the connection between the two events by associating Hitler with the people that are segregating America. He also states how he would fight for any injustice by saying "Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish Brothers" (223). By making these strong statements he forces his audience to think logically about the treatment of African American's during the civil rights movement, regardless of which cause they supported.

Furthermore, King connects with his audience when he criticizes the unjust segregation laws. When accused of having a desire to break laws, King immediately disproves that theory by agreeing with their concern, and then discusses the difference between just and unjust laws. He quotes St. Thomas Aquinas faultlessly when he states his thoughts on law: "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality" (222). He continues to say that a person has a "moral responsibility" (221) to refuse to comply with unjust laws, as well as having an obligation to obey just laws. His statement forces his readers to put themselves in his shoes and think of their moral responsibility to stand up against unjust laws regardless of their skin color. By sharing his perspective with his audience, King creates the idea of moral responsibility in the head of people who favor segregation. He focuses on making his readers realize that segregation, although legal, is morally wrong. He once again quotes St. Thomas Aquinas perfectly at the end of his paragraph by affirming that "an unjust law is no law at all" (221). By ending his paragraph with a short, powerful statement from a very well respected philosopher, it gives him credibility as well as an exceptionally influential idea that stays with his readers throughout the rest of his essay.

Moral responsibility is only a foothold that Dr. King uses to maintain familiarity with his readers. He often quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, an Italian Catholic philosopher, as well as Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher. By doing this, it makes his words credible because he can support them with thoughts



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