Martin Luther King Jr Essay

Published 29 Aug 2016

Martin Luther King had an enormous impact on the history of modern day America

Martin Luther King has been one of the most significant persons in the history of the American Nation. He organized many non-violent protest demonstrations and became a role model for other civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez. However, even though he preached a non-violent position, some of the demonstrations got out of hand. In Birmingham, the police used dogs and fire hoses to get rid of African-American demonstrators, who were attempting to desegregate department stores, hotels, and restaurants. An African-American church was bombed, killing four little girls attending Sunday school. King was arrested, along with several of his associates. While in jail, he wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail, which provided a framework for his moral philosophy. (Burns, 2000)

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Although Martin Luther King belonged to a family where he saw his parents lynched and siblings beaten, abused by the police, stricken with poverty, humiliated by the racial slurs, he proved to be a beacon of hope for the black Americans even after such horrific experiences. While King still held to his non-violent philosophy, younger and more militant leaders began to participate in the civil rights movement. He attempted to organize a poor people’s campaign to illustrate the fact that people from all racial groups were suffering from poverty. During discussions to finalize the plans in Memphis, Tennessee, he was assassinated. James Earl Ray was convicted of the crime and sentenced to serve 99 years in prison.

Perhaps no American figure is used so much in multicultural education programs as Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps King’s most important message was that his peaceful, non-violent philosophy proved to be successful. In a country where violence is a way of life, this message of passive resistance is truly a critical piece of the multicultural education mosaic.

In this paper, I will discuss ‘Why we can’t wait’ by King Luther. King, Jr. was a man of many contributions for his fellow black American people. Martin Luther King Jr. was an extraordinary person who wanted for blacks to have civil rights, and he also wanted to place a stop on discrimination. Everyone admired Martin Luther King Jr. because of his strength and power, which enabled him to demonstrate love for everyone no matter what color he or she was.

Martin Luther strongly believed in education to combat the racial differences in the society. Nonviolence was a method used for the sake of not harming anyone. So, in other words, the concept of nonviolence played an important role in having whites change their minds on excluding the blacks. Their nonviolent methods made the whites feel a little more secure in mixing amongst the blacks during that period of time. Which means if blacks would have never come up with the idea of nonviolence demonstrations our world could have been destroyed (Luther, 56).

According to Martin Luther King Jr., the whole idea of nonviolence was an excellent thing to have come up with. Nonviolence is a calm way for the people to get their points across without having to fight. With including nonviolence as a strategy to achieve what people needed showed that blacks weren’t violent people as whites thought them to be. Martin Luther King Jr. was known for his great leadership skills in the civil rights movement. It was the movement for blacks to finally achieve individual rights as citizens. Right, or example, right to vote, Freedom of speech and equal protection under the law. This marked an historical event enabling blacks to get one step closer in belonging with the white race (Luther, 112). The civil rights movement entire purpose was so blacks could have the same opportunities and treatment as whites. It s stating that black Americans are supposed to by birthright have their civil rights no matter what anyone says.

Which are rights that people can t deny or deprived them just on the bases of their skin color. Yes let s then say, who gave the rights to the whites? All people want is to be treated equally in every aspect of life and not focusing on skin color. The movement didn’t affect their lives since it went nicely with nonviolence. Luther, 70). The civil rights of the blacks were non-existing in the period of time of Martin Luther King Jr. That’s because their right to go to school was denied. They weren’t given the privileged in going to school with the white folks. All the wonderful things people missed out on because of ignorance and fear.

The blacks had it extremely rough at this time. Due to the fact people were discriminating against them. Discriminating is when someone passes judgment just because they are different in shape, size, form, color, etc. Schools, jobs, Housing, Voting rights, and political positions– in each of these areas, manipulation with tokenism were the rules. Everywhere the blacks went, some type of discrimination occurred. For example, when blacks tried to go to a white school they were denied proper education (Luther, 156). The blacks were segregated from schools, restaurants, bathrooms, buses, libraries, water fountains, etc. The segregation of schooling is very difficult because blacks were going around with no education and skills. People actually went to the extreme of separating both bathroom and water fountain. Both white s and blacks had their own spots. At the lunch-counters they had a sit- in demonstration to represent those of color. The mere ignorance of people made it hard for those to adapt to such harsh conditions. What colored people were trying to say is that whites were narrow-minded only able to see one side or shape in a person (Luther, 22).

Those of colored skin didn’t want to go to their level of ignorance. So that led to uneducated and unskilled people, which was another barrier for them. Desegregation marked a vital point in history all due to Martin Luther King Jr. Enabling both blacks and whites to unite in peace without having problems. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man that lived during his time. Achieving civil rights for his fellow men and women, ending segregation in every aspect and doing it without any type of violence known as nonviolence (Luther, 111).

In April of 1963, Black students led by Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted Eugene “Bull” Connor in Birmingham. The clash was bloody. In August, the bloody confrontation was followed by the March on Washington, finishing with King’s speech. A union of Blacks and women behind the Equal Rights Amendment pressed congress to pass the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972. The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. – (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

On April 5, 1968 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The death of the 39 year-old civil rights leader sent shock waves throughout much of the city and the nation. His death infuriated the nation’s black society, triggering riots in major cities. Some people said that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was a “nonviolent man who drew violence to himself.” (Levy, 2003)

Martin Luther King, Jr., was an important figure that worked hard throughout the 60’s in order to gain black Americans’ civil rights. In 1959, King went to India where he studied Ghandi’s techniques of nonviolence. Sit-in movements began in Greensboro and soon followed many others throughout the country. King was arrested in October of 1960 at a major Atlanta department store. The charges on all the other protestors were dropped. King was kept in jail on a charge of violating probation for a previous traffic arrest case. He was kept in jail for four months of hard labor. The next year, December 15, 1961, King was arrested while fighting to desegregate public facilities in Albany, Georgia. He was charged with obstructing the sidewalk and parading without a permit. King’s home was bombed on May 11, 1963, and then there was an explosion at his headquarters in the Gaston Motel. In response to the bombings, blacks began to riot in Birmingham. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the leading and most impressive civil rights demonstration, the March on Washington, was the high point of the event. In 1964, King was awarded the title of “Man of the Year” by The Time magazine. King was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later on that year, December 10. King then set up a voter registration drive in Selma in February 1965. King’s civil rights movements came to an abrupt halt when he was assassinated April 4, 1968, in the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. (Adams 2003)

Martin Luther King Jr., one can analysis this piece of work by dividing it into three different parts, one being King s ethos. According to Aristotle an ethos should conclude to have virtue, good will, and practical wisdom. Martin Luther King Jr. in addressing his adversaries does an exceptional job of touching upon all three of these. The toughest of all three was the virtue issue in which he must prove how virtuous he is, while he has been arrested and is sitting in jail. A tough yet not impossible obstacle to overcome. He uses his background as good credibility, and quotes throughout his letter in biblical terms. From the beginning he opens with the fact that he is a minister to God and is the President of the Southern Christian Movement for Human Rights.

Although the white clergymen of the first letter claim that his actions of extreme measures are not justifiable, especially through moral standards. In their minds King and the other protesters are troublemakers and go so far as to say, hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions. How does someone refute this comment? He does so in stating that the only reason for such direct actions is because the political system gave them no justice. The religious realm gave no support or help toward their brothers and sisters. And for this, they sit in jail for disobeying a rule of parading without a permit. Yet they were the ones who did no wrong. They were denied their God given right to obtain a permit, and for that they are punished. So yes King sits in jail. And as the clergymen attack his moral conduct he states, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

Was Jesus not condemned for disregarding the laws of society? Within his letter King does a great job to support his actions and does not justify in any way that what he did was the best thing, but it was the most necessary. He proves he is a virtuous man and displays it through his understanding of where he is, but also his purpose for being in his situation. While King proves his morality to the clergymen he also proves his wisdom. Throughout the entire letter Martin Luther King Jr. refers to Socrates and he is well educated in knowing the law. His general claim stems from the fact that he fights for justice in which he is not receiving. And from this he continues his argument by addressing court cases and related historical situations. He not only makes his audience understand his case, but also he has the audience believing he is extremely well knowledgeable. (Bowie, 2001)

In all, this is what helps support his ethos. His argument along with support for his argument provides his reader with a good background of where he is coming from and where his argument stems from. While it is clearly understood that King is a moral, intelligent man, another part of his ethos is the reason for fighting this cause. For the clergymen that refuted what King stood for, they believe he is an extreme liberal whose intend is to disrupt society? Although they see his reasons for his actions, they do not fully understand. King has a grand background, which only makes him more necessary to stand up against the injustice. There is injustice in the society and he is intended upon changing that. For it is a God given right to be free and equal. He uses his life and the Negro communities struggle to support his claim. He is not an extremist looking for trouble, but a man searching for his rights. In all it can be concluded that there are reasons for him being in jail. There are reasons for him protesting. And there are reasons he gives to why things need to be changed. His wisdom, argument and morality only strengthen his ethos and are used to refute his adversaries.

The American civil rights movement through the 1950’s and 60’s was a turning point for our country as a whole. Probably the most influential leader of that time was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King became a leader because of his ability to captivate crowds with his powerful speeches. One of the most important letters he wrote was while he was incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama. The letter was to eight fellow clergymen that were from Alabama. The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was in response to some criticism from the clergymen. King calmly tries to state his purpose for his crusade for civil rights in the south. He uses three rhetorical strategies in his letter like: facts, allusions, and questions to inform the clergymen about what he and his people are dealing with as a whole “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” said King in his letter (Bowie, 2001).

King asks his readers questions about him and his people’s actions and then answers them in an intelligent and strong willed manner. He asks, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” (Page 318). King asked the questions that the clergymen would have asked him. By asking those questions, then he can answer the questions that are main points in his letter that clarify some of the actions that have been enforced in the south. This was a strong rhetorical strategy for King to persuade his readers. King being a very intelligent and wise man knew how to approach all the different kinds of clergymen he wrote to in the letter. One of the rhetorical strategies he used while writing this letter was the allusions.

He used incidents that had in one way or another affected the clergymen’s denomination or family history as a whole. When King refers to “the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar. (Page 321)”, he is referring to the Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman. He states that “early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. (Page 321)”, he focuses this statement to the other Christian clergymen. King finally uses a reference from our countries past, the Boston Tea Party. This reference demonstrates the struggle for freedom that we had a couple hundred years ago and this comment is directed to all the clergymen. By using this approach of writing, King can better demonstrate why he is doing what the clergymen are questioning. The examples he used are perfect references that civil disobedience has worked and turned out for the better on earlier believers of the church, whatever denomination.

Facts are a definite way to persuade a person in a letter that is his third rhetorical strategy in this letter. King includes some worthy facts to proclaim his reasons for the hard civil rights movement. He states that the church is one of the most important assets needed behind the civil rights movement. Although, he finds that the church is surprisingly against the movement, even though he thought it would be the opposite outcome. King states that “there have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than any other city in the nation. (Bowie, 2001)”, that is an unbelievable fact that proves without a doubt that there is injustice in the south. Finally, King declares what Jefferson said many years ago, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal (page 325).” This fact was one of the declarations our country was founded on and it is not taken seriously enough in the south. Jefferson’s fact that King states is one of the ways to prove the rhetorical strategy he uses in his letter. Giving facts as examples is a solid way to persuade people’s opinions on tough issues as this one. King used the rhetorical strategies such as facts, allusions, and questions almost as perfectly as can be used in a letter.


He made his reasons concise and straight to the point. Do I think he could have written a better letter? Not at all, that was the best letter I have ever seen in my life. Martin Luther King Jr. was a well educated man of great promise a couple more years. This letter was an excellent account of his powerful words that he can produce and a good example of his extreme intelligence. I am going to leave you a question to think about. How could the country as a whole have been different with Martin Luther King Jr. around this world a couple years longer?


  1. Adams, J. (2003). Freedom Days-365 Inspired Moments in Civil Rights History. New York: John Wiley & Sons. “Biography (Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. Bowie, Robert, and Immerman, Richard, Waging Peace: (2001): How Eisenhower Shaped an Enduring Cold War Strategy Page 1-17.
  3. Burns, W. Haywood. (2000)The voices of Negro Protest in America. Oxford University Press, p 47.
  4. Levy, Peter B (2003). The Civil Rights Movement. Greenwood Press.
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