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The letter from Birmingham City jail in the year 1963 was a response to eight clergymen who were opposing the use of nonviolence by Martin Luther King. At the time of writing the letter, King was in jail, and his attorneys had to smuggle it out. King was one of the Americans who forged a modern day manifesto of Jesus and Gandhi’s teachings of nonviolence. The letter is a statement of peace and hope in times of despair.
Although, the letter was specifically written to the clergymen, King’s choice of words communicates his message to the whole nation. The letter reveals his strength as a stout rhetorician and shows his depth of learning. The letter alludes to the Bible and several secular thinkers. Luther establishes ethos in his writing. King establishes the tone of the letter in the very first paragraph. It is here that he declares his intention to answer the clergymen in fair and reasonable terms.
In the second paragraph, he asserts his credibility. He answers the clergymen that he is not an outsider; he is, in fact, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The letter also has a massive emotional appeal especially while talking about the brutality of the police force. The way the police release dogs to the public does not amuse King. Specifically, he states that he seen dogs sink their teeth into the flesh of nonviolent and unarmed Negros.
The clergymen were also accusing King of civil disobedience, failing to obey the land's laws and instead taking the law in his own hands. In reply, King tells them that there is no need for obeying laws that are, in fact, not laws at all. The choice of words in this section of the letter makes one believe that we should never obey the laws of the land, if they are unjust.
In conclusion, King’s allure to ethos and pathos (emotions) communicates his message clearly to the clergymen and evokes emotions from the wider American black community.