Letters from Birmingham Jail


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What cultural values is Dr. King appealing to?

Letters from Birmingham Jail. Letters from Birmingham is an appeal against the culture of oppression and segregation. For a long time in America, African American voices were muted. Segregation suppressed the voice as it oppressed the community and stripped them of freedom. King rose up as the most vocal leader to agitate for freedom and equal treatment of all people. The Birmingham letter is a reflection of African American desires for freedom.

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What words/ideas is he trying to define or redefine?

There are several words that king seeks to define and redefine. King makes a distinction between just and unjust law. By borrowing St. Augustine understanding of the law, Kings asserts that “an unjust law is no law at all”. He further defines an unjust law by restating St. Thomas Aquinas definition: “an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in internal law and natural law”. It is from this definition that King expounds his argument that one has a legal and moral responsibility to obey just law and vice versa. He further argues that the equality that the civil movement was agitating for is the equality premised in the constitution and declaration of independence such as “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . .”  By defining these words, King seeks to foster an understanding of concepts.