Although the full text of King's letter is available here, it is quite
long. Here is a summary of the text:
While serving time in jail in Birmingham, Alabama for parading without a
permit, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the self-titled "Letter from Birmingham."
He directed the letter to several religious leaders from Birmingham. King, as
president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, argues against
upholding order in the name of racial segregation in his letter. He also
attempts to exonerate the non-violent protests of the black community. Using
personal experience along with classical arguments, both secular and Christian,
King feverishly seeks to connect with his white audience.
King seeks to refute the entire concept of segregation. Martin Bruber, a
Jewish philosopher, wrote of the injustice in putting a human below another,
or treating a human as an object. This notion of equality among humans is a key
concept of King’s objection to segregation. King continuously alludes to the
founding fathers of the United States. Thomas Jefferson enshrined
revolutionary ideals of equality that, King feels, have yet to be fully realized
because of segregation. King’s faith in the principles that forged America
reveals his patriotism perhaps to the surprise of his audience, who views black
protest as criminal action instead of free voice.
A detailed proof, grounded in secular legalism as well as Christian
antiquity, embodies King’s vindication of non-violent protest to communicate
with those who wish to uphold order despite existing injustice. Historical
Christian thinkers, such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas posit that
unjust laws are not laws at all. Laws of segregation, King believes, are such
unjust laws. King differentiates between legality and what is right. Everything
done by Hitler, King maintains, was legal in regards to the law that governed
Nazi Germany. However, most levelheaded thinkers do not also consider Hitler’s
actions to be just. Moreover, King asserts that those who fall victim to unjust
laws have the duty to protest them. If the exercise of free speech fails to
accomplish the job of exposing the unjust laws, then King believes the victims
are left with no choice but to use non-violent protest to create tension. King
is convinced that this tension will force society to deal with the greater
underlying tension of segregation.
Personal accounts of the terror of segregation represent King’s most
visceral appeal to his audience’s senses. King tells of white policemen using
unfair and brutal treatment on black men, women, and children during non-violent
protests as well as from everyday life. Consequences of segregation on the
psyche, such as the ingrained feeling of inferiority, appeal to the audience’s
emotions. A personal story of having to tell his daughter that she can not
attend a white amusement park continues King’s quest to relate to his
King’s entire letter is a microcosm of his struggle. Written from within
a jail, where he feels he is retained for simply exercising free speech, the
letter’s lengthiness is in a direct relationship, according to King, with his
oppression. In other words, the more stifled the voice for justice the louder it
must scream in order to be heard.
Written for an English class.