His famous speech “I’ve a dream” is partly selected as our English text in China. Although I know he is well known for the strong and affective words, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” still gave me a very deep impression. It is perfectly organized in a logical and thoughtful arrangement. On the other hand, the words are strong and full of real, impressive emotion. To fully understand this letter, having a basic background of Martin Luther King and the social environment at that time is necessary.
King was born into a rich middle-class family of Atlanta in the year 1929. His father and grandfather were both famous black ministers. King received a nice education, and graduated from Boston University as a Doctor of Ethnology. In the year 1955, King led the blacks of Montgomery, Alabama, in a boycott against the buses, which treated black people unequally as the white people.
The buses were desegregated in 1965. In the following years, King devoted himself to the fight for equal civil rights, and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In 1968, King was assassinated. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written in 1963. It was a “response to a published statement by eight fellow clergymen from Alabama” (King 403) who thought King’s non-violence resistance was “unwise and untimely”(King, Martin Luther.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail”. Casts of Thought: Writing In And Against Tradition. Eds. George Otte and Linda J. Palumbo New York: Macmillan1991, 403). At that time, the civil rights movement in the U.
S. faced several problems and difficulties, and was slowing down. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” lit the whole movement up, and became a turning point. After knowing the basic background, let us focus on the letter itself. At the beginning of the letter, (from paragraph 1 to paragraph 3) King successfully reverts his passive position as prisoner to a busy leader minister, who had little time to respond to criticism. In the first paragraph, he kept his polite tone, and made the statement in such a way that he was not forced to answer but willing to reply because he respected those clergymen’s good will and sincere.
Then, in the following paragraphs, he answers the question:” Why is Martin Luther King is here in Birmingham?” In this section, the words “more basically”, “moreover” show a logical organization. He mentions his president position in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to indicate his responsibility of the situation of Birmingham. Here, he emphasizes the invitation and organization ties to imply that he should be respected as a guest. In the coming paragraph, he compared himself as a minister with those Christian saints in the history to gain trust and more respect. Then he focuses on the duty of a human being and an American citizen, who should show more concern to those injustices no matter where they are.
Here, he refutes the clergymen’s statement about “outsiders coming in” by saying:“ Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea”(King 404). By the end of the first section of the letter, King has perfectly got the trust and respect he deserved as a man, a minister, a civil rights leader, even a prisoner. We can see how easily and perfectly that King changed the person of writing from the single “I” to a plural form “we”, in order to emphasize he’s not alone. He gained a high respect and showed a strong support at the same time.
The careful and thoughtful structure is another main character of the letter. From paragraph 4 to paragraph 46, King refutes several statements mentioned in clergymen’s letter, and makes a strong and firm counterattack. The questions he answers include:1) Why are the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham?2) Why do we take direct actions, instead of negotiation first?4) Why should we show willingness to break laws?Among these influent and powerful answers, the words that talk about breaking laws show an excellent organization and combination of identify and example, cause and effect. In .