Martin Luther King Jr. conveys strong usage of the three classical appeals Logos, Ethos and Pathos throughout his essay Letter From Birmingham Jail. Although King uses all three appeals in justifying his participation in the Birmingham Campaign his argument is heightened most by Logos through a combination of metaphors along with biblical and historical reasoning. Martin Luther King Jr. uses his essay Letter From Birmingham Jail as a way to justify his actions in the Birmingham Campaign. The campaign was an act of nonviolent resistance to racism through a series of marches and sit-ins that took place in Birmingham, Alabama. The letter initially was written as a way for King to validate the necessity of the campaign to a group of eight white clergymen who disagreed with it. For this reason King begins his essay with strong biblical references. At the beginning of King’s essay he establishes a connection to, and reveals, his intended audience. In the first line King states “My Dear Fellow Clergyman” (172). This simple line provides a baseline for the entire essay to follow. For starters the line reveals his audience, a group of clergyman. By including the word “fellow” King has also provides a connection to his audience by putting them on the same plain as himself. Lastly through the use of the word “clergyman” King also foreshadows at the biblical reasoning in his essay to follow.
The first major use of Logos in this essay comes in the form of two biblical reasons behind the Birmingham Campaign. The first being King’s statement, “Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid” (173). In this statement King makes a comparison between himself and the apostle Paul. Paul spread the word of the bible in the first century. At this time the bible was still a controversial idea, similar to the idea of civil rights for all American’s. This reference helps the reader better understand why King has decided to participate in the Birmingham Campaign. By using this parallel King also provides a reference that the clergyman will clearly understand because of their religious backgrounds. King follows this up by making reference to the holidays of “easter” and “christmas” (174). These two religious holidays provide not only an explanation to how the events of the Birmingham Campaign were carried out but also another religious reference for his readers to pick up on.
Over the next few pages King shifts his focus from biblical reasoning to historical ones. As King’s essay moves along his reasoning behind the Birmingham Campaign shifts from biblical to historical. King testifies, “We have waited for more that 340 year for our constitutional and God-given rights” (176). He exclaims that the fight for freedom began with the formation of America. King feel’s that equal rights is long overdue and to sit back any longer would just continue the vicious cycle. By adding “constitutional” into this statement King also references the work of another civil rights activist, President Abraham Lincoln. King wants to make sure that the clergyman realize how long this fight has raged on for and how the time to act is now, not later. King strengthens this argument through a series of metaphors. King looks to move his argument along through the use metaphors that express the reasoning behind the fight for civil rights. King urges that, “perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation” (176). Someone who has not dealt with the hardships of segregation can’t possibly begin to understand why this fight is so necessary. He understands that many can’t and won’t understand the reasoning behind this fight but he does and will continue to fight so others will not have to feel the same pain he has felt. This metaphor ultimately opens up King’s grand argument as to why the Birmingham Campaigns were so necessary. King builds off this metaphor in saying, “men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair” (177).
African American’s can longer stand to be written off as less that human. They want to be treated the same way as their white counterparts instead of being thrown into a category below them. King uses similar metaphors throughout his essay to repeat this point. King’s essay Letter From Birmingham Jail uses constant Logos to articulate his reasoning behind the Birmingham Campaign. He uses a combination of biblical and historical reasons to express to the clergymen the necessity behind the movements he had participated in over the course of the campaign. He then uses multiple metaphors to expose the pain and suffering the African American community has endured to this point. By comparing segregation to a “stinging barb” (176) King furthers his argument behind the need for the Birmingham Campaigns. Even though Martin Luther King Jr. uses each of the three classical appeals in his essay Letter From Birmingham Jail his usage of Logos helps to guide his argument along through the uses of biblical and historical reasoning and constant metaphors to expose the necessity behind the campaigns he had participated in.