Sharon McGrady’s MLK Reading Analysis Exercise
My assignment called for students to read carefully Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in preparation for writing a persuasive research essay which would incorporate one of several such readings from the Norton Reader fitted to their individual paper topics.
- The following homework instructions were provided:
After reading King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” consider the following questions before class as preparation for an in-class writing exercise. You may use your handwritten notes taken while reading the letter, and any ideas recorded in response to the questions below:
How does King appeal to the group of clergymen whose statement he is answering in his letter?
Look at paragraphs 15-20 where King discusses what makes a law “just” or “unjust.” What distinction is being made here and how? Do you agree, disagree?
*Can you think of any examples of “civil disobedience” today? What about movements for racial equality or other protests we have seen? Do these fall into the same category or do they differ? Explain and think of a good passage in King’s letter that seems relevant.
*King draws on a number of philosophers, theologians, biblical figures and church fathers in his letter. Find an example and analyze how it works for his argument. What is the effect of bringing in these other thinkers?
* How does King use metaphors, analogies or imagery in his letter? Find an example and think about how it contributes to his point.
- In class, students were then asked to use their laptop computers, their notes, and Norton Reader (14th ed) as they analyzed paragraph 25 of King’s “Letter” (included below in its entirety). Specifically, I asked students to explain King’s point in the paragraph within the larger context of the essay, with specific emphasis on the rhetorical moves he makes to convey that point. They had 20-25 minutes to write a solid paragraph.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest must precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.