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The Letter as Rhetorical Form-MLK Letter on Social Injustice.docx

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CAS SO 210
Donald Gillis

FULKERSON Citation: Fulkerson, Richard P. "The Public Letter as a Rhetorical Form: Structure, Logic, and Style in King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail"" The Quarterly Journal of Speech 65.2 (1979): 121-36. EBSCO Communications & Mass Media Complete. Web. 19Apr. 2014. • “on 12April 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., in order to have himself arrested on a symbolic day (Good Friday), disobeyed anAlabama Supreme Court injunction against demonstrations” (Fulkerson 121) • ^“That same day, in the Birmingham News, King saw a public letter signed by eight leading (white) Birmingham clergymen calling on the protesters to cease their activities and to work through the courts for the redress of their grievances” (Fulkerson 121) • He wrote the letter the morning following his arrest, while being held in solitary confinement (Fulkerson 121) • “As he wrote later, ‘Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly Negro trusty’” (Fulkerson 121) • Designed apparently as a refutative response to the clergymen, King’s essay actually addresses two audiences simultaneously: the limited and precisely defined group of eight clergymen and a broader and less exactly defined group of intelligence and religious moderates” (Fulkerson 122) • [the eight clergymen in their letter] address the “propriety of civil disobedience and the timing of the protest” instead of the issue of racism (Fulkerson 122) • ^ “Arestrained document of seven paragraphs and slightly more than 400 words, the clergymen’s letter supports the theses that ‘these demonstrations are unwise and untimely,’ and that, ‘When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts’” (Fulkerson 122) • “Little, if anything, was to be gained in addressing white segregationists, black revolutionists, or people indifferent to civil rights. The situation called instead for an address to as wide a range of moderate-to-liberal, involved readers as possible” (Fulkerson 123) • “By answering the clergymen, he in effect answered the mental reservations held by those whose dedication to equality fell short of support of public demonstrations” (Fulkerson 123) • “Never satisfied with one response, he answers each argument on at least two levels, usually a practical, immediate level, perhaps most appealing to a public audience, and an abstract, philosophical level involving unstated moral premises, an argument appealing more the ostensible audience and others with some philosophical abstractions” (Fulkerson 127) FULKERSON • “Instead he answers the implied major premise (that it is always wrong to break the law)” (Fulkerson 128) • “King’s fundamental answer is drawn from the premise that laws are not ends in themselves but means of achieving justice. If so, justice, and not the law per se, must be served” (Fulkerso
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