Letter from Birmingham Jail

In the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the first three paragraphs tell the reader a lot about what is important to the author of the letter and what kind of purpose he had for writing this letter. In these paragraphs the most important aspects of what Dr. King was trying to convey can be easily identified and understood, giving us insight into a time and place that has become so important to American history for many reasons.

In the introduction of the letter King describes his purpose for writing the letter, and what led him to feel that he had to write it in answer to the criticism of other clergymen who were judgmental about the actions that put him behind bars in the first place. In this paragraph we can clearly see that King is wishing to set the record straight about his actions and what his motivations were. He writes

“If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day”, proving that while he is aware that people are judging him and criticizing him, he chooses not to listen to it usually because he feels that his time is better used for working towards his goals.

The second paragraph is important to the rest of the letter because it establishes King’s place within Alabama and his affiliations to various organizations, all of which brought him to Alabama in the first place. He feels that his fellow clergymen were questioning his motivations for going to Alabama, as well as his purpose in being there. He wanted the clergymen to know that he had a reason to be there, saying “We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise.” Here, we see the intended audience of King’s letter, as well as the purpose and subject of his letter. All of these things are more clear because of this paragraph.

The next paragraph is, in essence, is the thesis for this letter because it gives the readers a clear picture of what the rest of the letter is about. Here is where he puts, into simple terms, why he is in Alabama and why he feels compelled to do his peaceful protesting.

King spells it out when he says, “Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I. compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town”. He feels that this is a labor of love, something that is his duty, and for this reason he feels that to convey his passion about civil rights through this letter is imperative to his gaining the respect of others. The rest of the letter is set up in these three paragraphs.