Letter from Birmingham Jail

by

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Letter from Birmingham Jail Themes

Themes and Colors
Racism  Theme Icon
Christianity and Morality Theme Icon
Extremism vs. Moderation Theme Icon
Justice  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Letter from Birmingham Jail, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Racism

Systemic racism throughout the American South is at the heart of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter, written in response to criticism of his nonviolent civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama. King writes his letter from jail, as he and other African Americans have been arrested for protesting the segregation policies and overt racism in Birmingham; those protests violated an injunction on parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing, and picketing. He gives ample context for the protests…

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Christianity and Morality

In his letter, Martin Luther King, Jr. responds to criticism from eight Alabama clergymen; directing himself to them as a fellow Christian, he defends the Birmingham protests and his desegregationalist agenda by appealing to their Christian values and sense of morality. Of all of King’s rhetorical strategies, this may be the strongest and most personal for him, as King sees racial equality not just as a political issue, but a moral and religious…

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Extremism vs. Moderation

Many critics portrayed civil rights activists as extremists, a term that King addresses directly in his letter. While he first rejects the idea that he is an extremist, he later embraces the term, again citing parallels from the Bible of “extremist” actions that served a higher moral cause. He also uses this opportunity to condemn moderates whose silence and apathy he finds more detrimental to the cause of racial justice than the direct opposition of…

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Justice

Martin Luther King, Jr. writes his letter from a small jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, imprisoned for protesting racial inequality and segregation as a political and social policy in the South. Despite writing from a prison cell, however, King never considers his actions criminal, and uses his letter to argue that while the protests were illegal, they served a greater sense of justice. He was protesting laws that he considered fundamentally unjust for a…

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