An Analysis of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”


In 1963, Martin Luther King, one of the Unite States most famous civic rights activists in Birmingham was imprisoned for his participation in a civil rights demonstration in the city. While in prison, Dr. King wrote a letter seeking to address some criticism brought against him by the clergy. This essay shall highlight some of the issues addressed in the historic letter including; King’s reason for being in Birmingham and why he felt compelled to break the law.

Reasons for Being in Birmingham

The first question that Dr. King addresses in the letter is the reason why he is in Birmingham city. This was in light of the fact that he was from Atlanta and some of his critics therefore considered him an outsider to Birmingham. Dr King asserts that his presence in Birmingham is as a result of a direct invitation by some affiliated organizations across the South.

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As the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King feels that it is his duty to work together with his organization’s affiliates. King further states that his presence in the city is due to the injustices that exist therein. He is compelled to be there to offer aid to the people who he feels have been wronged by the system for as he declares, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Reason for Breaking Laws

Dr. King also comes under attack for violating the laws of the land. His critics condemn the demonstration that King is involved in since they violate Birmingham’s laws and cause unrest. Dr. King admonishes his critics for failing to consider the social realities that have necessitated the demonstrations by the Negro community.

While he acknowledges that negotiations are more suitable, King illustrates that past negotiations have failed to yield any fruitful results. Direct action is therefore seen as the only way through which the nation’s conscience to the racial realities of America can be awakened. Dr. King also point out that most of the laws in place such as segregation and denial of rights to votes for some groups are unjust in nature.

These laws are immoral and King affirms that he can with a clean conscience urge people to disobey such laws. As such, King advocates for the obedience of the Law as he acknowledges that lack of law would lead to anarchy. However, he encourages the public breaking of unjust laws so as to arouse the conscience of the community over the particular injustices.

Historic Figures

In the letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. King point to a number of historical figures so as to support his line of action. In the letter, King points to Jesus who was branded as an “extremist for love” and subsequently crucified for the same. Paul, an avid follower of Jesus who is credited with the early spreading the Christian gospel is also featured in the letter. The German priest, Martin Luther, who was responsible for standing up against some of the practices of the ancient Roman Catholic Church, is also referenced.

Mr. King also refers to John Bunyan who was imprisoned for his believes and willingly stayed in jail other than perverting his conscience. The United States president Abraham Lincoln whose administration led to the abolishment of slavery is also referenced in King’s letter. The letter also cites Thomas Jefferson whose words in the declaration of independence assert that all men are created equal.

All of the historic figures that Dr. King refers too were branded as extremists in their time but as history demonstrates, they were all men of integrity and their “extremism” brought about necessary change and inspiration to the people.


This paper set out to analyze the letter from Birmingham by Dr. Martin Luther King so as to highlight some of the issues that Dr. King sets out to address. This essay has explained the reasons why King was in Birmingham city, his reasons for advocating the breaking of the law and the various historical figures with whom Dr. King related. From the analysis provided in this paper, a better understanding of Dr. King’s motives and his reasoning can be reached.


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