from “Letter from Birmingham JailMartin Luther King, Jr.

(Page 1137 – 1145)

Directions: Answer thoroughly in legible, complete sentences.


  1. What is an allusion? What are some different examples?

Reference to a person, place, event, or literary work that the author expects the reader to be familiar with; historical, biblical, mythological, etc.

  1. What is the difference between an inductive reasoning and a deductive reasoning?

Inductive – specific information to a general conclusion (regular triangle)

Deductive – Broader statement to more specific (inverted triangle)


  1. According to the text, who is MLK writing this letter to?

8 white clergymen who wrote a letter in response to his protesting; “unwise and untimely”

  1. Why does King say, “seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas”?

b/c he gets so much criticism for all that he does that his secretaries would have little to no time to accomplish anything else

  1. What group was MLK a part of? What was his role?

President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

  1. In the 3rd paragraph (“But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . .”), what type of allusion is King making? Why/What influences do they have on the reader.

Biblical – Old Testament prophets and early leaders of the Christian church; King relies heavily on biblical allusions b/c they are part of the common language of the Christian clergy – helps aid in his argument

  1. In the 4th paragraph (“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. . .”), what generalization (or premise) does King begin his argument with?

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

    1. What conclusion does he make about how this premise applies to the United States?

Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds

  1. King shows empathy with his clergymen when he states “it is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham.” Explain then, in your own terms, what King claims is even more unfortunate than the demonstrations.

It is more unfortunate “that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative”

  1. According to King, what are the four basic steps in a nonviolent campaign?

1) Collection of facts to determine whether injustices exist; 2) negotiation; 3) self-purification; 4) direct action

  1. What are some of the examples of “the ugly record of brutality” in Birmingham?

gross mistreatment in the courts; unsolved bombings of churches and homes; etc.

  1. According to King, what have the Negro leaders sought to do? What was the result of this?
    negotiate with the city fathers; “city fathers” refused to “engage in good-faith negotiations”

  2. Explain what happened last September, according to King.

Opportunity came about to talk to the city leaders about removal of the segregation signs; agreement came of a temporary stoppage of posting of the signs; later the African-American community noticed that few signs were briefly removed, some were returned, and the others remained

  1. What imagery does King use as a result to the incident in September?

our hopes had been blasted” / “shadow of deep disappointment” etc. (pg 1138)

  1. What does King mean when he says that they scheduled a “strong economic-withdrawal program”?

They devised a plan to schedule a boycott

  1. When was the “strong economic-withdrawal program” initially scheduled to take place? Why?

During the Easter season b/c other than Christmas, it is the main shopping period of the year

    1. What made them change the date?

Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March and they decided to postpone the boycott until after election day; they did not want to cloud the issues that were being brought up during the election period

  1. According to King, explain what “nonviolent direct action” creates.

Crisis and fosters such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (pg 1139)

  1. What type of “tension” does King support? Why?

Constructive, non-violent tension that is necessary for growth; wants to create that tension to “help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood”

  1. What was the purpose of taking direct action?

To negotiate with local lawmakers; to bring about civil rights for African-Americas

  1. What is King’s response to those who criticize the “timeliness” of this “direct action” taking place?

The new Birmingham administration must be negotiated with just as much as the old administration

  1. To whom is King referring to when he says, “I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign what was ‘well-timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation”?

White society

  1. When King writes “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights,” what is he indirectly referring to?

the centuries that African Americans were enslaved in the United States

  1. In the same paragraph as question #21, which example of reasoning is present? How do you know?

Deductive reasoning – it begins with a general statement and then advances with more specific statements of facts and evidence that leads to a conclusion

  1. What kind of law does King say should be obeyed?

Just” laws

  1. What does King classify segregation as?

morally wrong and sinful”

  1. Who was Paul Tillich? What did he say?

A German-born American theologian of the 20th century; “sin is separation”

    1. What is this an allusion to?

Humankind’s banishment from the Garden of Eden, described in the Christian Bible. Adam and Eve, because of their sinful pursuit for knowledge were forced to leave Eden and suffer separation from God.

    1. How does this allusion relate to King’s message?

King is saying that segregation is sinful, that people’s estrangement from their brothers and sister is a tragic result of sin

  1. King states, “Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.” What is his initial premise? What specific conclusion does he draw from it?

Premise: Laws can be applied unjustly Conclusion: An ordinance requiring parade permits is unjust when it denies one’s First Amendment right to peaceful assembly and protest.

  1. Why is it so important that the people not respond or protest violently?

Because a violent response just “adds fuel to the fire”

  1. After discussing how our nation practiced civil disobedience through the acts of the Boston Tea Party, King makes another historical allusion. What is it? Why is it significant to his speech?

Adolf Hitler – Hitler’s regime during the Holocaust killed over 11 millions people considered undesirable

  1. Locate the paragraph that begins, “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. . .” Which type of argument does King make here (inductive vs. deductive). What is King’s general conclusion?

Inductive – “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will”; “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”

  1. According to King, what is the “hidden tension”?

Racial prejudice and all of its ugly consequences (pg 1143)

  1. Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, was considered the martyr of modern Western thought (469-399 b.c.). He focused on virtue and the health of the human soul. The Republic (Athens) accused him of corrupting the youth of the city for having them question tradition. How does King’s question of Socrates fit into his argument?

AWV – King is having the public question why is there a need for segregation as all people are the same creature. King is trying to cleanse the virtue and health of the human soul by ending the discrimination and giving equal opportunities to all

  1. What was King disappointed at being categorized as? How does he deal with this label?

As an extremist; he gained satisfaction at the label once he realized that he was being categorized with others such as Amos, Paul, Jesus, John Bunyan etc (see examples in footnotes) (top pg 1144)

  1. To whom does King refer to when he says, “One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage. . .”

The young African American population, many of them students, who took part in the non-violent demonstrations and sit-ins

    1. Why does he use the word “disinherited”?

He is emphasizing that civil rights are the birthright of every American citizen and that black Americans are unfairly denied these rights

  1. Why does King feel the need to apologize at the end of his letter?

AWV – If his response is too strong, then he may offend the clergymen; if his response is not strong enough, then he must answer to God for lacking moral insight and courage. He is implying that he would rather err on the side of exaggeration.