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Americans have a long tradition of gathering at city hall or the steps of Congress to demonstrate for or against an idea. One of the most important movements in the United States has been for civil rights ² economic, political and social equality for African-Americans and other minorities. In the 1960s much of the momentum for the civil rights movement came from public demonstrations. Demonstrators were often jailed for disturbing the peace and similar offenses. In one such case in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others were jailed in Birmingham, Alabama. King and the others were strongly criticized. Eight Birmingham clergymen wrote a letter to express their criticism. This letter appeared as a paid advertisement in a Birmingham newspaper. King wrote a letter that explained his reasons for rallying local residents to demonstrate against segregation. As King relates, his response to the eight clergymen was ³begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while [he] was in jail, « continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly Negro trusty, and concluded on a pad [his] attorneys were eventually permitted to leave [him].´ As you read the portions of King¶s letter, try to decide why he and others used protest methods they knew were likely to send them to jail. Then, based on what you have read and what you know of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, answer the following questions: Questions 1. What guarantees in the First Amendment are relevant to King¶s protest actions? Explain why. 2. When King referred to ³constitutional and God-given rights,´ what do you think he meant? 3. What did King hope to accomplish by demonstrating publicly? 4. King wrote that he had ³no alternative´ but to demonstrate. Explain why he reached that conclusion. 5. Instead of demonstrations, what alternatives would his critics have recommended? 6. Conflicts of values are inevitable. What are some of the values that were confronted in civil rights protests? Which of King¶s values were in conflict with values of those who criticized him? 7. In the face of large demonstrations, what were the legal responsibilities of the Birmingham police? How can police tell the difference between lawful protest and unruly or dangerous gatherings?
equal protection of the laws and due process. What laws and social conditions did King want to change? 11. refers to "God-given rights. 12.´ What are his examples? 9. o o o o y When Dr. This was one goal of King¶s protest. King gave direct evidence for ³unavoidable impatience. Why was it important for King to include the churches¶ response to the freedom movement and biblical allusions? 13. Augustine. Rights such as life. Martin Luther King Jr. Consider King¶s audience. According to King.8." he is referring to inalienable rights. In America a special group of rights exists that are both constitutional and inalienable. Freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances. King used allusion and figurative language. Was his use of allusion persuasive when he used examples of ³an extremist´? Give examples of figurative language. y The First Amendment guarantees rights to the demonstrators: o Free expression of religion. What is a ³moderate´? What is an ³extremist´? Use these four questions for a more in-depth study of King¶s use of language. In addition to concrete language. King believed blacks had been denied their ³Godgiven rights. those rights that the government does not define or create. liberty and happiness are considered inalienable. St. How was his argument strengthened through references to St. King publicly called for civil rights at the demonstrations.´ Freedom of speech. For more than 200 . King organized the demonstrations. the following list specifies the major concepts covered in Questions. Freedom of assembly. These rights include voting rights. for your assistance. Thomas Aquinas and Martin Buber? 15. Which shared values did King use to convince his critics of the rightness of his position? 14. How is this a useful rhetorical device? Concepts Found in ³Letter from Birmingham Jail´ Educators. Constitutional rights are established by federal and state constitutions and refined through legislation. what is a ³just law´? an ³unjust law´? 10.
He also said freedom is never given by oppressors unless the oppressed demand it.´ y y y y y .´ ³patient´ and ³unavoidable impatience. which never happened. Jewish and different Protestant traditions. King never forgets his primary audience ² ³my Christian and Jewish brothers. United States citizens have relied on the First Amendment to prevent government interference with the inalienable rights and freedoms of belief and expression. Emotional demonstrations may start out lawful. Patience and waiting. Protests that experience suggests may lead to unlawful acts.´ clergy from Roman Catholic. Blacks had been told many times to wait for change. The police must judge how the participants and observers are behaving.´ Note his use of ³wait. y Time was part of his argument. He wanted to show how his protests were related to the rights others already enjoyed. and suppress speech only if it is likely to incite immediate lawless behavior. negotiation and other less vocal. There was more to unite than to separate them. arson or physical violence. but turn dangerous. King was willing to take the legal consequences of nonviolent direct action. In his conclusion he refers to the ³disinherited children of God.´ ³great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers´ and ³strong in the faith. such as rioting. though he felt compelled to break ³unjust laws. The urgency of blacks¶ demands for equality was in conflict with the belief in slow change.´ He was a ³fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. They had no recourse but nonviolent direct action. He was trying to let people everywhere know what conditions blacks faced in their lives.´ King felt both sides respected the law. The basic principle involved is to find a way to allow speech and assembly to happen rather than to stop the expression. Often a permit is required to preserve free speech and to ensure public safety at large assemblies.´ The demonstrations were demanding freedom now.years. King was educating the clergy and public through this letter. King was demanding freedom and justice ³too long denied. Without a permit the gathering may be unlawful. and protecting the public from disturbances and violence. less public actions like letters to the editor or lobbying city councils or legislatures have all been tried.´ ³sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage. King acknowledged the importance of maintaining law and order. are also subject to tight restrictions.
9. Toward the end of the letter. How does he address the counter-argument that negotiation alone is ³a better path´? 6. King then describes the four basic steps to a nonviolent campaign. King presents another Biblical analogy to support his argument. King presents another Biblical analogy to further justify civil disobedience. Dr. A further argument in support of his presence in Birmingham is the ³interrelatedness of all communities and states. Analysis of Argument: ³Letter from Birmingham City Jail´ Rev. Dr. How does his frustration with these groups contribute to the justification of his actions in Birmingham? 13. How does King justify breaking the law? What laws should be broken? 8. Jr. How does he differentiate between a just and an unjust law? Compare King¶s reasoning with Thoreau¶s (³Resistance to Civil Government´). 2. Read the letter addressed to King. Why is nonviolent civil disobedience needed? Why shouldn¶t they ³wait´? How does King justify their impatience? Discuss the anecdotal evidence presented. How does King address the concerns of the Birmingham clergymen that describe his measures as ³extreme´? 12. 1. Explain 11. Explain. How does King address the counter-argument that disobedience of the law leads to anarchy? 10. Is it effective? 7. He presents an argument through analogy by comparing his situation to that of the Apostle Paul. King begins his response by justifying his reasons for being in Birmingham. 5.Please click on the links below for complete printer-friendly copies of the handouts. King discusses his disappointments with ³white moderates´ and the white churches. What is the rationale for asking ³outsiders´ to refrain from demonstrating in Birmingham? List the main points presented in the letter. How does that analogy help justify his presence in Birmingham? Is it an appropriate analogy? 3. Martin Luther King.´ Explain. 4. Why does he state that ³we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action´ in Birmingham? Provide examples. .
Review the letter from the clergy to King. .14. Does he successfully address their concerns and refute or qualify their arguments? Compose an outline of King¶s letter.
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