The Letter from Birmingham Jail

I want you to assess what we can take away from King’s letter to help us think through our current situation. What, if anything, does the text offer that can be applied to our current social and political context? For instance, let’s say you find the distinction between just and unjust law compelling. You might think about how that distinction could be adapted to laws that either prevent or mandate the disclosure of police camera footage after someone is killed, so as to allow the public to help assess wrongdoing. Or, you might find his definition of nonviolence, and especially the four steps involved in any nonviolent protest, as something that could be adapted to modern protest movements, in order to make them more effective? You could also examine the differences in context between now and King’s moment, and explain how he might have approached things differently (and what might remain the same) if he were to write the text today. There is a lot in King’s essay to work with, and you can certainly choose more than one idea to engage in your own writing. The aim, however, is to think about its continuing relevance as a political document.

To this end, you will need to summarize and paraphrase, of course. Everyone needs to allocate at least three paragraphs to simply representing King’s ideas for your reader (though not necessarily in the same spot in your essay). In addition, you will need to research at least three sources for the second draft. Two of these sources can be mainstream news articles. One, however, needs to be a scholarly article accessed through the Library webpage (such as through Proquest, for example). I would encourage everyone to simply use the rough draft to sketch out some initial ideas, some basic thoughts and reactions to the letter, and perhaps a tentative outline of the structure of your second draft. The rough draft is exploratory, but it should be two pages minimum, double-spaced. The second draft should be four pages.

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