Letter from Birmingham City Jail

by Martin Luther King Jr.
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In his "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," Martin Luther King Jr. presents an argument through analogy by comparing his situation to Apostle Paul. How does this comparison appropriately justify his presence?

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In this letter, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. compares himself to Paul, one of Jesus's apostles, and this is effective in justifying his presence and his purpose for writing. To understand this, take a look at the similarities between King and Paul. Firstly, Paul left his hometown of Tarsus to spread the word of God around the Greco-Roman world. This is similar to King, who left his hometown and went to Birmingham. The only difference here is that King intended to spread the message of racial equality and brotherhood.

Secondly, both Paul and King were considered to be "extremists." Paul, for instance, was imprisoned for being a Christian while King was imprisoned after breaking a law which prevented demonstrations. From his cell, Paul wrote numerous letters in which he praised and glorified Christ, just as King wrote this letter in which he praised the non-violent method of demonstration.

By creating this analogy, then, King makes a powerful case for his cause and urges his readers to carefully consider their understanding of a 'criminal' and 'extremist.'

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A minister himself, the Reverend Martin Luther King felt that just as there was for St. Paul, there is a "due time" connected with every feature of the Divine Plan.  Thus, he believed that he was called to Birmingham just as St. Paul was summoned by the Macedonian to spread the word of God to the Greeks, who were recognized at this time as the foremost people of the world in literature and the arts.  King's summons, however, was to serve the cause of freedom because there were violations of the Supreme Court's ruling of 1954 against segregation in public schools. He writes from the jail in Birmingham,

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The Reverend King contends that people are caught in a network, and what one state does affects all the other states of America.  Laws must all be just throughout America or there is no true freedom, just as all peoples needed the word of God so that the good will would be in the hearts of all men.

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