“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Marin Luther King, Jr. and “A Homemade Education” by Malcolm X are superb examples of argumentative writing. Although similar in their appeal to the reader’s feelings and reasoning as well as in establishing the writers’ credibility, the works differ in their purpose.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” is Martin Luther King’s answer to the public statement by eight Alabama priests urging the leaders of the civil rights movement to cease street protests and pursue legal methods in their quest for justice. In his letter, King advocates the nonviolent demonstrations that he and his companions have organized. His purpose is to prove that the time for the action is right and the black men’s struggle for freedom is legitimate. The author, moderate in his stance, is against using force.
Malcolm X, a black nationalist, takes a more radical position. He intends to demonstrate how evil and cunning the white man is and how much pain and misery he has brought to the non-white population in different parts of the world. Malcolm X, although indirectly, justifies violence if it is required for the cause of freedom.
As a demonstration of their knowledge and expertise, both writers cite several trustworthy sources of information. Martin Luther King frequently refers to religious figures. For example, reacting to the criticism that he comes from outside, King mentions the prophets that left their homes to spread the word of God late in the first millennium and apostle Paul. The author also quotes some great thinkers of the world. For instance, discussing the notion of just and unjust laws, he supports his argument with Martin Buber's words that segregation reduces individuals to the state of objects. Besides, the reader finds references to the Constitution of the United States and the Bible. Malcolm X, on the other hand, supports his arguments with examples and citations from an astonishing array of books. The author also mentions his teacher Mr. Muhammad as a source of inspiration and ideas, as well as some philosophers and political figures such as Mahatma Gandhi. The authorities that both writers cite in their works lend sufficient credibility to them in the eyes of the reader.
Noteworthy is also Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s skill of appealing to emotions. Both writers describe the atrocities and crimes of white people against non-whites in a manner that makes the reader sympathize with the victims of oppression and feel anger toward their oppressors. Malcolm X, for example, mentions appalling accounts of torture and humiliation he found in some pamphlets, such as when black mothers had to watch their children being taken away from them forever. Likewise, justifying the action in Birmingham, Martin Luther King moves the reader by saying how hard he finds it to explain to children the causes of inequality. It wrings his heart to see tears in his little daughter’s eyes when he has to tell her she cannot go to an entertainment park because she is black.
Finally, the facts provided by both writers make their arguments sound logical and reasonable. Accusing the white man of deception, hypocrisy, and greed, Malcolm X gives statistics and data related to the slave trade in America and the colonial expansion of European countries in Asia. As a reason for commencing the nonviolent action in Alabama, Martin Luther King speaks of the failed agreement between Birmingham’s merchants and the civil rights activists concerning the segregation signs in the shops. He also points out that the number of attacks on black people’s homes in Birmingham is greater than in any other city in the United States. All this supporting evidence aids the writers in achieving their purpose.
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To sum up, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, while having somewhat different aims, by skillfully appealing to emotions and logic and by referencing authoritative sources to support their point of view, seem to have convinced the reader of the truth and validity of their arguments.
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