“Letter from Birmingham City Jail”
In “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” Martin Luther King argues that segregation laws are unjust and attempts to persuade his audience that blacks can no longer wait for justice. One strategy that King uses to accomplish his purpose is selecting tones appropriate for his message and audience. Through Kings’ wide range of tones, he promotes vivid imagery through his entire essay. Martin Luther King defended what he thought was right and used imagery to show that segregation was unconstitutional.
In 1963, police arrested civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King and jailed him for leading a boycott against Birmingham lunch counters that would not serve blacks. Shortly after his imprisonment, a group of eight Alabama clergymen sent King a public statement ordering him to be more moderate in his demonstrations. Specifically, they charged him with being “unwise” and “untimely.” This statement caused him to make an intense response stating his cause, refuting their charges, and justifying his actions in King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” By gaining the support of the majority group, King knew that the civil rights movement could achieve its goals of removing the illegal segregation practices much faster.
King begins his essay with a tone of reasonableness and patience. He chose these tones to win acceptance of his audience. Rather than burst into an emotional tirade about injustice and indict the white church, he first reveals himself as an organized, thoughtful, and cooperative civil rights leader and spokesperson. King states in his introduction, “But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.” This tone effectively promotes King’s image that he was not “unwise,” but rather in control. King wants to set an image that he is both reasonable and equal in his...