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Dr. King uses a variety of Aristotle’s appeals throughout his letter to explain to these white clergymen why protesters were being civilly disobedient, why they were in the right, and how disappointed he was for being on their side but not liking the tension and resilience of the protesters.
At the start of his letter, Dr. King appeals to ethos with “My Dear Fellow Clergymen…” (Paragraph 1) He supports his claims by acknowledging his audience and himself as very religious men. It gives his image a good impression since religious leaders are seen as moral and very trustworthy. Before Dr. King can get to the hard-hitting facts to give them a reality check, he approaches the situation lightly by addressing that they have good intentions in this quote. “But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.” (1) He addresses his audience by treating them as equals and sees them as his peers rather than belittling or demonetizing them for not doing anything about racial issues. Instead, he educates them what they can do to practice what they preach. This is quite a big deal because Dr. King was in jail while writing his letter. This also gives the clergymen an idea of who Dr. King is as a human being. He also makes references from Greek philosophers like Socrates, which only further establishes his morality and credibility. “Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” (10) He manages to connect his struggles to famous philosophers in order to justify his own actions and why he is in the right.
Although many of Dr. King’s other speeches and works were specifically focused on appeals to emotion and inspiration, the major moments of pathos in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” come in the parts about the suffering of the African American community. In order for Dr. King’s argument to make sense, we have to understand why the situation is unjust. So he gives a vivid picture of what Black Americans have to go through in the segregated South. “…when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?” (12) This really gets to the heart of any parent—or anyone who loves children. By giving this kind of example, Dr. King is allowing white people a highly relatable glimpse into the pain of the Black community. He then goes on to paint a picture of how the criminal justice system mistreats African Americans. “I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together.” (34) Dr. King tells the clergymen that if they were to see the brutal acts police officers inflict on innocent people that maybe it will open their eyes and give them a perspective of what African Americans go through. Just the thought of seeing young and old people getting beaten by the police for just living their everyday lives is devastating. Even to this day, most victims of police brutality are people of color that have participated in nonviolent civil disobedience or peaceful protest. Despite how often he uses brutal and very graphic pathos, Dr. King also writes a lot of the beautiful and optimistic possibilities of America’s future in his letter. “I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.” (34) This passage is just as directed to his followers as it is to the white people who are on the fence or unaware of what was really happening. He has to validate the ugliness of the situation with a few moments of fearless righteousness and monumental calls to hope. He ends his letter on a very inspirational note. “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” (39) Dr. King describes racism as some sort of “storm” and hopes that someday very soon it will be lifted and we will all see each other as brothers and sisters. This passage is just so beautiful and gives us a ray of hope that someday (perhaps very soon) racism will be nothing but a sinister memory and that love will bless us with her everlasting grace and beauty.
When it comes to knitty gritty, his letter makes a very serious and hard-hitting logical argument. It explains in great detail that nonviolent disobedience is the ideal way to protest. One of Dr. King’s basic arguments is that just laws should be followed while unjust laws should be deliberately disobeyed. But in order to persuade people to this idea, he has to do more than engage the readers’ emotions. In this quote, he defines unjust and just laws from different points of views. ” An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself…. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?” (14) This is pretty much the perfect definition of just and unjust laws. Here, he also gives a reason why there is so much tension in the South: the fact that Black Americans don’t have the right to vote. Even though the south is mostly populated by Black Americans, none of them have registered to vote because they are not allowed to. Dr. King also talks about how Hitler killed many and it was considered “legal” within the law. Hitler had tortured people, broke many families and destroyed town in the name of racial genocide. His actions were considered legal while even attempting to save these people from torture were considered illegal. This only further proves his point that if any law is unjust, the right thing to do is to break that law.
Dr. King did use quite a lot of ethos and logos, but what really stood out to me was his use of pathos. ‘ .

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