Breath of Clarity

Kings Historical Allusions Justify Civil Disobedience Everywhere

In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. utilizes allusions to justify civil obedience. King includes credible historical logos to validate the idea that blacks deserve to pursue justice with direct action everywhere. King alludes to the success of well-respected ancient figures to demonstrate that if he approaches the civil rights movement with similar strategy then positive results will follow.

In the second paragraph, King references Jesus’s prophets to illustrate his purpose for coming to Birmingham as an outsider. When King compares himself to religious characters, it allows him to draw a parallel between racial justice and the Lord’s sacred word. It makes it seem as though King has a responsibility to the African American population, just as the apostles were obligated to spread wisdom to all of God’s children. King ultimately defines his movement as an effort to “carry the gospel of freedom,” which makes the audience understand his need to travel all the way to Birmingham to preach ideals that now seem sacred.

The allusion to Socrates shows that creating tension can be progressive because it forces the opposition to confront the issue. King explains that incorporating tension into a non-violent resistance movement could be misleading. It makes King seem uncommitted to his values of peace. The allusion to Socrates is used for clarification purposes. The audience now understands King’s definition of tension as mental forcefulness rather than violence. Socrates claims convey that tension is necessary to break the bondage that stubborn opposition full of prejudice won’t release in order to unify a nation. This makes it acceptable for King to take the civil rights protests to a more aggressive level.