Letter From Birmingham Jail

Considering the final three paragraphs as King’s conclusion, discuss whether you believe it is rhetorically effective.


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The final paragraphs of the passage end with another burst of false deference that ultimately celebrates the power of the just individual to change society. In many ways, Dr. King’s apologies feel strangely placed, as he seemingly retreats from the confrontation of the previous paragraphs. And yet in apologizing for having potentially gone too far, he turns the judgment not to the men he ostensibly apologizes to, but instead to God. In effect, he does not care whether they forgive him; they have lost their right to judge whether his cause is just.

Instead, he ends with a rather ministerial optimism, a “hope…[that] the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over this great nation.” What is contained in the language of the closing, however is that such a future is not certain. As he makes clear earlier in the “Letter,” there is no inevitability of justice; individuals must force it into life. Having only paragraphs before celebrated the “real heroes” of the South, a number of which includes not only famous Civil Rights icons like James Meredith but also nameless people who have stood up for justice, he reinforces that these “radiant stars” will come to pass not through good will or moderation, but through the tireless efforts of those who will fight for it (185).

And it is telling that he does not end the “Letter” by begging the clergymen for anything but their “hope.” For he does not need them (or, if he did, he would not end the "Letter" by acknowledging it). He and his brethren are on their way, devoted to their cause. What the clergy – and the country at large – must now decide is whether they will join the train towards “Peace and Brotherhood” or be left behind (185).