You are on page 1of 4

Chanel Seto

AP Language and Literature

Ferguson, 8
March 3rd, 2015

My feet is tired, but my soul is rested

Its 1963, and Martin Luther King just led the March on Birmingham. Policemen and
attack dogs alike pounced on hundreds of peaceful protesters, bringing many of them to jail
including King himself. During his solitary confinement, nine Alabama clergymen released a
statement condemning the actions of the protesters, citing them as untimely and unneeded, while
commending the actions taken by the police. As a response, King wrote one of his most famous
works, Letter From Birmingham Jail, on the margins of a newspaper. In his Letter From
Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. uses his descriptions between the police and protesters
in order to emphasize the extent of the polices brutality, as well as portraying desegregation as
something the audiences religion supports to persuade them to advocate for desegregation as
King provides an insiders perspective on how the police treat the Negro community,
stressing the brutality of the officers to the clergymen. In the clergymens letter, they commend
the law enforcement for the calm manner in which the demonstrations were handled. As a
response, King refuted their statement, explicitly stating the police did not keep order while
handling the protests. Instead, to emphasize the polices brutality, King puts the clergymen in his
shoes through a series of if statements. If the clergymen had seen the police forces dogs sinking
their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes, they would not have so warmly commended the
police force. By using vivid imagery to show the clergymen the true viciousness of the police

force, King highlights the clergymens erroneous beliefs, underscoring their ignorance to the
reality of the situation in Birmingham. He specifically mentions the Negroes as unarmed and
nonviolent, stressing the fact that they had no means of protecting themselves against the vicious
attack dogs, who were set loose by the police force, clearly an example of unwarranted brutality
against the peaceful protesters. If they saw the policemens ugly and inhumane treatment of
Negroes in the county jail, witnessing them push and curse old Negro women and young
Negro girls, King doubts that the clergymen would have so quickly [commended] the
policemen. Both old Negro women and young Negro girls are considered as non-combatants,
since both the elderly and the young are usually considered the weakest in society, so they must
be protected by others. By telling the clergymen of the inhumane treatment dealt towards these
weaker human counterparts by the police, King accentuates the polices barbaric acts towards
the helpless protesters. To further stress his point, King goes on to describe how the police had
denied the jailed protesters food on two occasions because we wanted to sing our grace
together. Since the most of the clergymen are of Christian heritage and have positions of power
within their denomination, King specifically includes that fact in order to illustrate how the
police cruelly denied the jailed protesters food because the protesters wanted to do something all
Christians have a right to do: sing grace. This would especially elicit an angry, if not shocked
reaction from these individual clergymen, since such an act would be deemed immoral under the
eyes of God. Furthermore, Kings repetition of the phrase if you were to observe and the
parallel structure of each those statements only serves to punctuate how arbitrary the policemens
vicious behavior is: had the clergymen been in that march and witnessed these heinous acts
against the black protesters first hand, they would not have so easily assumed that the police
were acting calmly to subdue the protests.

King continues to emphasize the brutality of the police by drawing on the clergymens
misconceptions about the behavior of the protestors. Right after King describes the vile actions
the policemen took against the protesters, he juxtaposes them with the actions of the protesters
themselves. He wishes the clergymen had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators
for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of
great provocation. King fruitfully describes the black protesters actions, again showing the
clergymen a first-hand perspective on the protest, further underscoring how the clergymen had
placed their praise and trust on the wrong group of people. The protesters had the noble sense of
purpose that enables them to face jeering, and hostile mobs unlike the police officers, and
were courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail
for conscience sake." Since the clergymen did not laud the protesters efforts, King chooses to
praise them here, showcasing the true virtues the protesters displayed during such times of
turmoil. As one of the leading figures of the Civil Rights Movement, and leader of the March on
Birmingham, King draws attention to the protesters characteristics that the clergymen failed to
notice. By providing an insiders perspective of the marchs true nature, King not only
establishes himself as one with the people of Birmingham but he also points out to the clergymen
their flawed view of the march as a whole, especially with the polices actions, making their
ignorance even more evident.
King appeals to his audience by portraying the audiences religion endorses the cause for
segregation. As the letter comes to a close, King envisions the future, where one day the South
will know these disinherited children of God [who] sat down at lunch counters. The
disinherited children of God King refers to are the protesters, not only from the March on
Birmingham but many other demonstrations as well. When disinheriting a child, the child him or

herself can no longer obtain anything from the parents through their will; since the protesters are
equated to the disinherited children of God himself, King first gives the impression that they
were at fault for being dispossessed by God, who is an almighty being in the clergymens eyes.
However, King goes on to explain that these so-called disinherited children of God were in
reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our
Judaeo-Christian heritage. All nine of the clergymen were either of Jewish or Christian faith,
having some position of power in their own sect, but King unifies them together, claiming that
the fight against racial injustice is one of the most sacred values within the Judaeo-Christian
religion. To the clergymen, going against the divine principles of God would be sacrilegious,
thus by pointing out the protesters, or rather, Gods disowned children actually supported these
holy values through their sit-ins and demonstrations, King reshapes their image as heros,
standing up for what was just and moral under the eyes of God.
Throughout his letter, King displays a deep mastery of language, and uses that to his
advantage. Its amazing to know that when this letter was first conceived, all King had at his
disposal was a pen and the margins of a local newspaper. Who knew the impact this one piece of
writing could have on the whole of American history? It makes you wonder, how future
revolutionaries could do the same thing? What if youre standing in their shoes right now? What
if its you? We wont know right now, but when we do, history will mark another name down in
the annals of American history, and maybe even the worlds.