In April of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for his efforts in the civil rights movement. One day after King's arrest, a full-page advertisement taken out by a group of local, white, moderate, clergymen appeared in The Birmingham News. They attacked the demonstrations as "unwise and untimely" and concluded, "We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.
From his prison cell, King replied not only to the ministers' letter but also to an educated, white, middle-class audience, by writing his response in the margins of the newspaper and on toilet paper . "I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was well timed in the view of those who have not suffered from the disease of segregation," King, wrote in what was later published as the essay, Letter from Birmingham Jail.
The 6500 word letter went on to explain and make clear to the clergy and to the world why the struggle against racism must not be deferred. King's main claim in this letter is that no matter what the circumstances are it is far beyond time for the black community to stand up and fight for what is rightfully theirs, the same rights and freedoms accorded to the white community. King effectively accomplishes this task through the structure of the essay and in his use of pathos, ethos, and logos to defend his arguments.
King's structure of the essay is purposeful in its attempt to sway the audience into his way of thinking. King begins the essay by clarifying why he is in Birmingham to begin with. Secondly, King describes his direct action campaign, for this is why he is being attacked, his "unruly" behavior.
He then explains to the reader that this campaign may involve breaking laws, but they are laws that should not be in place to begin with. Next King appeals to the white moderate, for they are his biggest audience. He needs them to feel the agony of living everyday as a black person, to gain their sympathy. Sometimes going to extremes is the only way to make his cause heard, as he explains in the next section of the essay. His final appeal is to the citizens of the white church, to show them the errors of their ways, as "good" Christians. This is also a way of making the white moderate feel a guilty conscience. King concluded with an apology to anyone he might have offended as not to make himself be seen as someone who only has one opinion and therefore cannot understand the feelings of others not in his situation.
Structure is only one of the elements that make a good persuasive argument. The author must also use Aristotle's three primary tactics of argument: appeals to the emotions and deepest held values of the audience, appeals based on the trustworthiness of the speaker , and appeals to good reasons. King's use pathos in this essay is done to make his audience feel what it is like to be a Negro in the South of the 1960s. King is speaking about how people feel that the time has not yet come for blacks and whites to be unified. King use of pathos compels his audience that the time has come and gone and action needs to be taken. "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."
King urges his audience to see the world of a black person through their eyes. "...when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you see hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity...when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, when she is told Funtown is closed to the colored children;...when you take a cross country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile, because no motel will accept you; when…