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Martin Luther King's Use of Ethos, Pathos and Logos in The Letter from Birmingham Jail

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter to the Clergymen from Birmingham Prison, King Jr. uses the rhetorical appeal of ethos to establish credibility on the racial discrimination and injustice occurring. King’s letter begins “My Dear Fellow Clergymen”, explains this is trying to say that as person all are equal to the clergymen. King Jr’s message is that he is no less than them and they are no better than him. King continues, “I am here because I have organizational ties here. But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here”. King explains that he has credibility based on injustice, not because he is accepted of white privilege, he has credibility because King Jr is well educated on the matter.

King Jr wrote, “Was not Jesus an extremist for love… was not Amos an extremist for justice… was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel… was not Martin Luther an extremist… and John Bunyan… and Abraham Lincoln… and Thomas Jefferson “. King Jr’s appeal towards logos in this quote effectively shows it has an impact on his written audience, clergymen. King JR. mentioning the important historical and religious figures like Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, and Thomas Jefferson, making the point if those people were doing the right thing, is then so he. King Jr. shows pathos appeal to human emotions and encourage clergymen and citizens a to end the racism and hate.

King Jr’s appeals to pathos emphasizing the necessity for urgency by bringing the audience into the letter using second person. King jr’s letter gives his opinion on the praise that some were giving the Birmingham police force by directly addressing them with what he saw in the situation. King continues with, “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently, we share staff, educational, and financial resources with our affiliates”.

King Jr’s purpose for the introduction is to establish credibility as a member of the United States of America, attempting to prove that he contains just as much knowledge based on injustice and racial discrimination as the clergymen, if not much more. King Jr appeals pathos when showing the trials his people have gone through with injustice and racial discrimination.

King Jr attempts to make them feel what the people have gone through when regarding injustice and racial discrimination.

King shows this by using lines, “When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim.”, “when you have seen hate-filled policeman curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters”. King Jr’s lines use incendiary language like “vicious mobs” and parallelism like “lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim.” By King using this kind of language and sentence structure, making you envision, feeling what King Jr had to witness his friends and family go through during those hard times.

Throughout King Jr’s paragraph he shows us using this kind of sentence structure and a lot of imagery the audience starts to feel what it would be like to be in King’s position feeling the pain and troubles that occurred. King Jr wants to persuade to keep reading the letter, understanding exactly what he feels towards the vicious acts, showing you the positive ways to change the outcomes of these acts. King Jr. then proceeds to justify his cause for protest and states his reasons to the advancement of civil rights. King Jr. does so by pointing out specific examples in which laws were unfair. King explain, ‘We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was legal and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was illegal. It was illegal ‘to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers”.

Throughout his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. establishes himself as a legitimate authority in the eyes of his audience, showing logos appeal. King describes the trials his people have gone through, justifying his cause and arguing for immediate action. King jR’s urgency and call for action in the letter emphasized his strong appeals to pathos. King Jr’s personal experiences appeal to ethos and logos making his argument strong. By inspiring sympathy through strong emotional appeals, King brings hope for positive change showing the ethos appeal. Kings ultimate goal with the letter is to bring the American people together as one and equal.  

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Martin Luther King’s Use Of Ethos, Pathos And Logos In The Letter From Birmingham Jail. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from
“Martin Luther King’s Use Of Ethos, Pathos And Logos In The Letter From Birmingham Jail.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
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