In the final paragraph, what double audience does King address and what details show his awareness of both audiences?

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pamrider | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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Dr. King concluded his stunning rebuttal to criticism by sympathetic clergy with an example of his overwhelming capacity for love. His audience in the final paragraph—as in the body of the Letter from a Birmingham Jail—is to clergy who criticized him. It is also to the world. While living in especially harsh Birmingham jail conditions, King had learned that clergy had questioned his tactics, timing, and choice of witness. He began writing his response on the margins of the newspaper in which the criticism had appeared. In spurts, the ongoing missive was smuggled out of the jail by Dr. King’s lawyers. By the time of the conclusion, the prisoner knew the letter would be presented for general audiences through publication.

The final paragraph demonstrates the living depth of Dr. King’s love. The body of the letter—built on a scaffold of scripture, Christian traditions, and bluntly truthful discussion—reflected his need for communication as a very sociable man held in solitary confinement. He always addressed his audience—even the outwardly sympathetic clergy, whose support fell by the wayside when tested by resolve, agitation, and civil disobedience. The letter ended as a brief sermon to the world on love—even for fair weather friends who let one down. This writer remembers a television interview with Dr. King’s 9-year-old son just after his father’s assassination. Asked if he hated the man who shot his father, the son said, “My daddy taught me not to hate anyone.”

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The final paragraph to Dr. King's letter reflects his rhetorical skill and his universality as a messenger for social change.  In it, he addresses dual audiences in the hope of a wider acceptance of his message:

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

On one hand, Dr. King is addressing members of the established clergy that have criticized his stance on the issue of Civil Rights for people of color, specifically African- Americans.  This is seen in the reference to being "strong in the faith." It is also seen in his own self- reference as "a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother."  

Dr. King is skilled in being able to address the larger White community, as well.  Dr. King speaks of a "love and brotherhood" that "will shine over our great nation."  Dr. King understands that his actions are being seen by White Americans.  In addressing the cultural majority, Dr. King recognizes that Civil Rights is a human issue, experienced by all and not solely people of color. When he speaks of "fear drenched communities," it is a reference to people of color who are the victim of racial prejudice, but also those communities that are perpetrating such injustice.  Dr. King recognizes that the issue of Civil Rights is one that encompasses Blacks and Whites, and he makes the larger cultural majority the second part of his double audience.

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