The Use of Persuasion in the “ Letter from Birmingham Jail”  

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Updated: Apr 14, 2023
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There are three appeals of persuasion used commonly all over the world. The three methods developed by Aristotle include Pathos, Logos, and Ethos. These literary elements allow the reader to further convince the audience of the writer’s arguments. An author’s background wants to appeal to readers, and their positional power helps the reader understand what is being said. Dr. Martin Luther King, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” used Pathos, Logos, and Ethos successfully engage him with the audience ( those impacted by the unjust system ).

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Dr. King used pathos to pull emotions from the audience, logos through his imprisonment and trial and tribulations due to race, and lastly, ethos by explaining who he is and why the movement will not stop unless done by him. His main focus was to create a place where those of all colors could come together in unity. He captured this want through the audience through pathos. Dr. King starts his letter with some background information on addressing that, yes, he is in jail, but he also explains why he is holding the civil rights movement in Birmingham and why he was arrested.

King also used I statements to give more information. In one instance, he explains how his organizational ties with the Christian Leadership Conference and his moral duties brought him to Birmingham: “I am here in Birmingham because injustice is here” ( King 86). This short stern statement provides an element of pathos by painting a grisly portrait of the racism that african americans then faced and his hopes to help make a change in the community.

This one little detail helps the readers feel a connection to Dr. King’s mission, sympathy for those who lost their lives to the very injustice that brought him to Birmingham, and an admiration for his respect for the people. He gains more empathy as he adds how the injustice in Birmingham affects not just that community but all communities over the world. To help convince the readers why what was happening at the time was wrong and caused pain in so many people in the South, King states his four-step plan.

“In any nonviolent campaign, there are four basic steps: a collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham” and “There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation” to persuade readers unfamiliar with the way a nonviolent protest works and why he feels that it is needed (86).

King proves that he is a reliable source, using these facts to support his argument that everyone should help fight injustice with nonviolent protest. By revealing why he is doing this, King gives his readers a reason to join in on his mission. For King to win support for his argument, he needs to persuade the readers to distrust the current government and to show that religion and pride do not provide an ethical foundation for the mistreatment of colored people.

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The use of persuasion in the “ Letter from Birmingham Jail”  . (2023, Apr 14). Retrieved from