Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Martin Luther King

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26 December 2021

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In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written to the fellow clergymen on 16 April 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. justifies to the clergymen the non-violent motion of the Negro for their human and civil rights. He uses most successfully the artwork of rhetoric as taught by Aristotle – the ethos, the pathos and the logos. In this manifesto of Negro revolution Luther King has developed an ethos – a convincing and a credible persona which makes his letter acceptable to the bigger communities of “moderate white” who also seeks the liberation of his neighborhood, but usually are not willing to disturb and disrupt societal life.

He makes use of pathos to stir the emotions of his readers about the genuine need for such non-violent protests with out which the Negro can not hope to counteract the racial discrimination. But he is most successful in using persuasive argument or the facility of logos to convince his readers in regards to the truth and propriety of their movement. He has proved past doubt that the present actions of protests are neither “unwise” nor “untimely”.

The sincerity, devotion and perception in non-violence make Martin Luther King comparable with Mahatma Gandhi of India who impressed him.

He replies to the criticism with due respect and suavity which makes him a noble enemy even to his detractors. Accepting his critic’s “criticisms are sincerely set forth” he patiently elaborates why his action isn’t “unwisely and untimely” (Letter. 1) He also politely refutes the argument of “outsiders coming in” by reminding that Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights is certainly one of the 85 affiliated organizations.

By utilizing Aristotelian ethos he persuades his fellow white men that the non-violent direct action program in Birmingham is a cry against injustice and therefore commendable.

Luther King has also referred to many instances of oppression and torture of the Negro which evoke the sympathy of the readers. His rhetorical method is the Aristotelian pathos. He points out how “racial injustice engulfs this group. ” (Letter. 2) and forces them to resort to demonstration. He cites the examples of atrocities on the Negro similar to “grossly unjust therapy within the courts” and the “unsolved bombings of Negro houses and church buildings in Birmingham”(Letters. 3). Nevertheless the city fathers of white community have refused to engage in negotiation with their representatives.

He additionally writes about numerous indicators of racial discrimination on different stores which have not been eliminated despite protests. He rouses sympathy by citing the actual life horrible incidents of “vicious mobs lynch your moms and dads at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim;” and “ hate crammed policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters. ”( Letter. 6) He talks about the motels which don’t enable coloured people to remain because of indicators of “nagging signs studying ‘white’ and ‘colored’;” (Letter. ) He also argues in opposition to the recommendation of “wait” because for lots of of years it has not produced any outcome. Luther king’s strongest point is his use of logos. The sheer pressure of his logic not only persuades the Negro, but also influences the rational whites who can distinguish between the simply laws and unjust laws. He advices his followers to obey the just laws for smooth operating of society, however defy the unjust laws which is out of concord with ethical laws. He defines unjust legislation as “Any law that degrades human character is unjust.

All segregation statutes are unjust as a end result of segregation distorts the soul and damages the persona. ” (Letter. 7) He lashes out as these overt and covert laws which do not allow the blacks of Alabama to register as voters. Such apartheid existed in South Africa where the white minority oppressed the black majority. But because of Nelson Mandela’s revolution the black won victory against racial discrimination. So he asserts: “A regulation is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, on account of being denied the best to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the regulation. (Letter. 8) With incisive and funky logic he defends civil disobedience and says: “an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment to be able to rouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very best respect for legislation. ” (Letter. 9) He cites the historical examples of Hitler and the Communists who tortured people with their unjust legal guidelines, but condemned the protests of the Hungarian folks as “illegal”.

Moreover, he blames the white moderates who approve of their goal however criticizes their means. He does not purchase the argument that those that participate in direct non-violent motion are liable for social pressure. Such argument is as fallacious as blaming the robbed because his wealth tempted the robbers to rob. He disparages the appalling silence of the white brothers in Texas who assume they are in a fantastic “religious hurry”. He additionally doesn’t additionally conceal his disappointment with the Church.

He ends his rhetoric with an optimistic note that “the darkish clouds of racial prejudice will quickly cross away and the deep fog of confusion will be lifted from our worry drenched communities,” (Letter. 23) and true love and equality would prevail on humanity. Luther King has driven home the reality uttered also by other thinkers. Frederick Douglass said, “The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the Black man’s misery. ” (The North Star) And according to George Moore, “After all, there is but one race – humanity. ” (The Bending of the Bough).

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"Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Martin Luther King" StudyScroll, 26 December 2021,

StudyScroll. (2021). Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Martin Luther King [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 9 August, 2022]

"Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Martin Luther King" StudyScroll, Dec 26, 2021. Accessed Aug 9, 2022.

"Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Martin Luther King" StudyScroll, Dec 26, 2021.

"Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Martin Luther King" StudyScroll, 26-Dec-2021. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 9-Aug-2022]

StudyScroll. (2021). Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Martin Luther King. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 9-Aug-2022]

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