Link to - Letter from Birmingham Jail
Analysis Worksheet Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, l Have a Dream, he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.
At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement. On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated (Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972).
Questions to consider for writing
Read the letter addressed to King. What is the rationale for asking “outsiders” to refrain from demonstrating in Birmingham?
List the main points presented in the letter. King begins his response by justifying his reasons for being in Birmingham. He presents an argument through analogy by comparing his situation to that of the Apostle Paul. How does that analogy help justify his presence in Birmingham? Is it an appropriate analogy?
A further argument in support of his presence in Birmingham is the “interrelatedness of all communities and states.” Explain and elaborate.
Why is nonviolent civil disobedience needed? Why shouldn’t they “wait”? How does King justify their impatience?
How does King address the counter-argument that disobedience of the law leads to anarchy? How does King address the concerns of the Birmingham clergymen that describe his measures as “extreme”?
Discuss the anecdotal evidence presented. Is it effective?
How does King justify breaking the law? What laws should be broken? How does he differentiate between a just and an unjust law? Explain and elaborate.
King describes the four basic steps to a nonviolent campaign. Why does he state that “we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action” in Birmingham? Provide examples from the text.
How does he address the counter-argument that negotiation alone is “a better path”?