Letter from a Birmingham Jail

In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. uses several writing techniques. There are two that are used predominately in his famous letter. To clarify his strategy the reader has to first understand the intended audience of his letter. The document is addressed to “My Dear Fellow Clergymen. ” Then to look at the letter a little deeper – it is not only the who the letter is addressed – but the position of those to who the letter is addressed. The recipients of this letter do not agree with Dr. Marti Luther King Jr’s actions.

Dr. King uses the writing techniques of exposition and description in this letter to his fellow pastors. Dr. King is defending his actions to his fellow pastors. To do this he has to describe why he is doing what he is doing and then expand on these ideas and actions. The first technique I will prevail on is that of expository writing. Dr. King is communicating to concerned clergy what he firmly believes. What his ideas and dreams are for the movement. Dr. King goes beyond description in this letter. He finds words to ensure the readers understand his ideas. Although the recipients of his letter disagree with his actions Dr. King draws out again that, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.

The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself…” (King). He digs deep within his heart to share his readers what he is feeling, his pain, his torment, his anger, his joy, his hope – and even his love. Dr. King holds nothing back in sharing his ideas and his inner most feelings. The next technique used in this letter is that of description. Dr. King goes into great detail describing what he and the movement are doing. What and why they have done 1 things that some don’t agree with. He at no time apologizes for the actions he has taken – he is merely describing what led him to take these certain actions. At one point in the
letter he describes his feeling of how he came to be at the front of the civil rights movement. He goes on to describe the event that led to his leadership role. He states “When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago…” Dr. King was very effective in his technique and strategy of writing. He relates many activities the movement has been involved in. He shares some of the stories of those he has met and stood side by side with. The letter describes his dreams of a better America.
He describes not only a 72 year old lady in Alabama – bet expands on why she is doing what she is doing. Because her feet are tired…. In thirty nine paragraphs and using less than 7,000 words (6,898) – Dr. King shares from a single jail cell in central Alabama the very essence of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960‘s. He describes to his readers not only what he is doing as part of that movement and why he is doing these things. More importantly – through exposition writing the reader understands exactly who the movement is for. As a reader of this letter I could see the entire movement unfold up to that point from his cell. I could also from benefit of history see where that movement was going.
From a bus ride in Montgomery, to a cell in Birmingham, on to speaking in front of a National Monument and a finally a wave from a balcony in Memphis. Was he successful in his writing strategy and techniques? The lunch counter signs are gone – there are not notes at water fountains – and let’s not forget who just moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 2 Bibliography King, M. L. Jr. (1963). University of Pennsylvania: African Studies Center. Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Retrieved February 18, 2009, from, http://www. africa. upenn. edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham. html

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