Main Idea of Letter from Birmingham Jail

Introduction (Exordium)

Mahatma Gandhi was a great man who taught the world a great deal, and two of his quotes seem to have inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see from the world” and “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Dr. King led the civil rights movement because he saw the injustices that were being perpetrated and wanted to see a change for the better. From 1954 until his death in 1968, he dedicated his life to making sure that there was positive change through nonviolence and civil disobedience.

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Due to these activities, he was jailed in 1963 where he came across a newspaper article by eight clergymen calling for unity. He was compelled to write a letter in response to the “Call for Unity” article. In the letter, Dr. King sought to explain why he felt it necessary for the Negro community to act immediately and why it was next to impossible for the oppressed to keep waiting for the right time as they were constantly told by the oppressor.
The Birmingham Campaign (Statement of Facts (Narratio))

Dr. King wrote the letter from his Birmingham jail cell because he felt he needed to make a few things clear to those who felt that his call for non-violent protests was uncalled for. In the early ’60s, the racial division in the city Birmingham was one of the highest in the unites states. There were laws and cultural practices that still supported or encouraged racial discrimination. The black population was getting overly frustrated by this situation leading to the Birmingham campaign which was organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that was led by Dr. King.

There were marches on city hall and boycotts on downtown merchants to protest the segregation laws in the city. Even though these were peaceful protests, the men, women, and children who participated were met with violence in response. The black community was fighting to have the segregation signs pulled down, a better negro job improvement plan and release of demonstrators who had been imprisoned because of their participation among other reasons (PBS, 2018).

Body/ Core of the analysis (Probatio)

Why the Protests? (Ethos- Used facts to woo his audience, presented himself as an authority on the topic)
Due to these efforts, he was jailed after being hailed an extremist. When he realized that there were clergymen who were against his efforts, he felt it was important to make an ethical appeal to these clergymen if only to make them understand the gravity of the situation. In his letter, he explains his actions and reasons for bringing his work to Birmingham by likening himself to the disciples of Jesus that were sent to other towns to spread the good word, Kirszner & Mandell (2018, p. 412).

He goes ahead to educate the clergymen on the clergymen on how he came to the conclusion that the best option was to carry out non-violent protests. He educates them of the four basic steps to a non-violent campaign which he states the first step as a collection of facts to determine the existence of injustice, the second being a negotiation, the third being self-purification and the final being direct action, Kirszner & Mandell (2018, p. 412)
Stating of these facts shows that he is well versed in the needs of the minority black community, their needs and that he has been very actively trying to work on these issues but the oppressors have forced them to take direct action.

Point of Reason ( Logos- Tries to reason with his audience)

Dr. King explains his feelings about the clergymenr’s concern on the movementr’s refusal to follow the Supreme Courtr’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation. He explains that there are two types of law one being just and the other being unjust, Kirszner & Mandell (2018, p. 415). He continues to explain that just laws go hand in hand with the law of God while unjust laws do not.

He also addresses the clergymenr’s claims that the campaign would give rise to violence by comparing it to condemning a robbed man for having the money to be robbed instead of condemning the act of robbery, Kirszner & Mandell (2018, p. 418). He did this to make the clergymen understand that the movement was not responding to the reactions of violence that they felt were likely to erupt.

How Patient Must We be? ( Pathos- appealed to audiences sympathies)

In response to their demands to understand why the campaign could not be halted and give the new mayor time to act Dr. King explains the reasons why waiting was no longer an option for the oppressed. He reminds them that it has been 340 years for the black community who have been living in needless oppression because they’re God-given rights had been snatched from them, Kirszner & Mandell (2018, p. 415).

He speaks of his own frustrations at trying to explain to his daughter why she is made to feel like she is not good enough. When as a father he feels hopeless when his little girl starts to grow self-conscience because of the fact that she is being treated like she is worthless or when he cannot explain to his son why white people are so mean, Kirszner & Mandell (2018, p. 415).


In the letter, Dr. King was able to address the concerns the clergymen had with informed facts, by showing that he was just a man of God doing what he felt was morally right and also did his best to help encourage the clergymen to walk a mile in his shoe and that of his fellow negro brothers. Information in the letter was crucial for everyone else to see not just the clergymen. It was effective because it detailed the long struggle that the negro community had endured for hundreds of years and convinced those in charge that the change was long overdue.


  1. King, Jr., M. L. (2018). Letter from Birmingham jail. In L.G. Kirszner & S.R. Mandell (Eds.),
    The Blair reader (9th ed.). (pp. 411-425). Boston: Pearson.
  2. PBS. (2018). The Birmingham Campaign [Web log post]. Retrieved from
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Main Idea Of Letter From Birmingham Jail. (2019, May 28). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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