Who does Martin Luther King, Jr. compare himself to in the "Letter from Birmingham Jail"?

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lorrainecaplan's profile pic

Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr. compares himself to eighth century prophets, who carried the word of God "far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns" (para. 3), and to Paul, who left home and spread the gospel of Christianity to "practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world" (para. 3).  

Like these men, King has left his home to spread the word, too, although a very different kind of word. Rather than spreading word of religion, King intends to spread word of the injustices that African-Americans are suffering from.  He calls this his "gospel of freedom" (para. 3), freedom for African-Americans from the injustices of discrimination.  

This comparison is particularly effective because King was a minister.  He was already charged with spreading the gospel of Christianity.  For him to spread the gospel of freedom was a completely logical step, consistent with his calling and his Christian principles.


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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Also, King clearly borrows from Henry David Thoreau when he writes,

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tell him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.

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