“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Analysis. Martin Luther King Essay

December 10, 2020 by Essay Writer


In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr (MLK), one of the United States’ most famous civil rights activists in Birmingham, was imprisoned for his participation in a civil rights demonstration in the city. While in prison, Dr. King wrote a letter seeking to address some criticism brought against him by the clergy. This letter from Birmingham Jail analysis essay shall highlight some of the issues discussed in the historic letter including King’s reason for being in Birmingham and why he felt compelled to break the law.

Reasons for Being in Birmingham

The analysis of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” will help to answer the first question that Dr. King addresses in the letter which is the reason why he is in Birmingham city. This was in light of the fact that he was from Atlanta, and some of his critics, therefore, considered him an outsider to Birmingham. Dr. King asserts that his presence in Birmingham is as a result of a direct invitation by some affiliated organizations across the South.

As the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King feels that it is his duty to work together with his organization’s affiliates. King further states that his presence in the city is due to the injustices and tension that exist therein. He is compelled to be there to offer aid to those who he feels have been wronged by the system for as he declares, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Reason for Breaking Laws

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” analysis will also help to define the reasons for breaking laws. Dr. King comes under attack for violating the laws of the land. His critics condemn the demonstration that King is involved in since they violate Birmingham’s laws and cause unrest. Dr. King admonishes his critics for failing to consider the social realities that have necessitated the demonstrations by the Negro community.

While acknowledging that negotiations are more suitable, King illustrates that past negotiations have failed to yield any fruitful results. Direct action is, therefore, seen as the only way through which the nation’s conscience to the racial realities of America can be awakened. Dr. King also points out that most of the laws in place, such as segregation and denial of rights to votes for some groups, are unjust.

These laws are immoral, and King affirms that he can, with a clean conscience, urge people to disobey such requirements. As such, King’s main point advocates for the obedience of the law as he acknowledges that lack of law would lead to anarchy. However, he encourages the public breaking of unjust laws to arouse the conscience of the community over the particular injustices.

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: Analysis of Historical Figures

In order to analyze “Letter from Birmingham Jail” substantially, historical figures should be reviewed. Dr. King mentions a number of historical figures to support his line of action. In the letter, King points to Jesus, who was branded as an “extremist for love” and subsequently crucified for the same. Paul, an avid follower of Jesus who is credited with the early spreading of the Christian gospel, is also mentioned in the letter. Martin Luther, the German priest who played the main role in standing up against the ancient Roman Catholic Church practices, is also referenced.

Mr. King also refers to John Bunyan, who was imprisoned for his beliefs and willingly stayed in jail other than perverting his conscience. The United States president Abraham Lincoln, whose administration led to the abolishment of slavery, is also referenced in King’s letter. The letter also cites Thomas Jefferson, whose words in the declaration of independence asserted that all men are created equal.

The summary of the letter shows that all of the historical figures that Dr. King refers to were branded as extremists in their time, but as history demonstrates, they were all men of integrity, and their “extremism” brought about necessary change and inspiration to the people.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail”: Conclusion

This paper is set out to analyze the letter to highlight some of significant issues that Dr. King sets out to address. This essay has explained the reasons why King was in Birmingham city, his reasons for advocating the breaking of the law, and the various historical figures with whom Dr. King related. From the critical analysis of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” provided in this paper, a better understanding of Dr. King’s motives and his reasoning can be reached.

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