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English 1301 - Bailey, Ned: Fall 2016: Home

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

"Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is one of the featured documents housed in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

Frederick Douglass Papers Project

The Frederick Douglass Papers has created this website to assist the general reader to learn more about Douglass and his accomplishments and the scholar to have faster access to to the thousands of documents that illustrate his career.

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Essay 2: Possible Topics

1. In paragraph 43, King says, "I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek." What does he mean? Define the ends he seeks and the means he approves. Do you agree with him on this point?

2. The first part of the letter defends King's journey to Birmingham as a Christian to help his fellows gain justice. He challenges the view that he is an outsider, using such expressions as "network of mutuality" and "garment of destiny" (paragraph 4). How effective is his argument Examine the letter for other expressions that justify King's intervention on behalf of his brothers and sisters. Using his logic, describe other social arena(s) where you might be justified in acting on your own views in behalf of humanity.  Do you expect that your endeavors would be welcomed? Are there any areas where you think it would be wrong to intervene?

3. In paragraphs 15 - 22, King discusses two kinds of laws -- those that are morally right and those that are morally wrong. Which laws did King regard as morally right? Which laws did he consider morally wrong? Analyze one or two current laws that you feel are morally wrong. Be sure to be fair in describing the laws and establishing their nature. Then explain why you feel they are morally wrong. Would you feel justified in breaking these laws? Would you feel prepared, as King was, to pay the penalties demanded of one who breaks the law?

4. Compare King's letter with sections of Paul's letters or his book of Romans in the New Testament. Choose either a single letter or select passages from several. How did Paul and King agree and disagree about brotherly love, the mission of Christ, the mission of the church, concern for the law, and/or the duties of the faithful?

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