Discuss Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail as both a primary source for understanding the Civil Rights Movement and as a statement about what it means to be an American (and thus an enduring call to action in the present period). Be sure that your essay does all of the following:
1. Explain issues at stake in the letter, their social context, and the assumptions which King makes. On what cultural traditions does he draw? How does he interpret, use, and transform them?
2. Explain the thesis and argument of the letter. What is King claiming? What argument does he make? Does it work?
What does the letter tell us about the period in which it was written? What problems of interpretation does it present when considered as historical evidence? What other sources would you need to consult in order to form a definitive judgment?
What broader political and spiritual claims does King make? How does his letter continue to challenge us today?
3. Present evidence to support both your analysis and interpretation of King. Use full citations which provide author, title, publisher or journal, date, and, if relevant, URL.
4) Finally, reflect on the current situation. What social forces are shaping the US in the present period? What are they trying to achieve and how? What is their relative weight? What is the likely outcome? How does King’s letter speak to the current situation? What do you believe we are called to do individually and collectively in order to realize the promise of freedom and justice for all?
5) Explore the practical implications of King’s argument. What personal choices is he asking you to make and what concrete political actions is he asking you to take today? are Why? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
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