Letter from Birmingham Jail

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Martin Luther King Jr. uses rhetorical strategy in a “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by citing philosophers, theologians, presidents, and the Constitution as evidence. King uses St Thomas Aquinas views to clarify and deduct the fairness of a law: “All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality” (570). To explain why discriminating laws demean the segregationists King states, “Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an ‘I-it’ relationship for an ‘I-thou’ relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things” (570). He references Paul Tillich to validate his contention that segregation is not only morally despicable but also sinful. Stating this country cannot survive being divided as further evidence on his fight for equality by mentioning Abraham Lincoln. King cites the Constitution by quoting Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." (573). His purpose is to reinforce his argument with quotations from respected people in the political, religious, and philosophic fields. He illustrates the evidence to justify why each of his equals should compel with the authority of the Supreme Court. An important element of this letter is that he achieves his appeal for nonviolent protest and unity. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrates the legitimacy of his claims and the legality of his fight by his rational appeal of evidence. King, Martin Luther Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Bloom, Lynn Z. and Louise Z. Smith. The Arlington Reader. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008.

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