Martin Luther King, Jr. writes "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in response to criticisms he has received from other religious leaders in the South. The leaders, which include white Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis, have condemned his actions as extremist and violence provoking. King responds by detailing the four basic steps of nonviolent action: "collection of facts to determine whether injustices exist, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action." Since King and the other black religious leaders have already been through the first three steps, nonviolent direct action was the necessary next step. He insists that action is required to bring the issues of segregation to the forefront of society so negotiation must occur.
After defending his own actions by referencing a myriad of Christian figures who were also thought to be "extremists" in their time, King goes on to talk about the two groups in which he is sorely disappointed: the white moderate and the white Southern religious leaders. He feels that both of them are too tied to the current status quo to make any reasonable effort toward change. Interestingly, King laments that the inextricable ties between the status quo and organized religion may prevent white Christians from ever ending segregation. Finally, he ends his letter with the utmost confidence in the success of his movement when he says, "We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom."
King's letter provides a microcosm for the desegregation movement as a whole. When faced with criticism and adversity, he calmly and patiently points out the errors being made and suggests ways that these errors may be corrected. The tact and reason that he shows in his letter mirrors the nonviolent and just method of protest that he promotes. In this case, form and function go hand in hand beautifully, a fact not lost on a man like Martin Luther King, Jr. He realizes that he has an opportunity to provide an example for his people of the way he wants them to respond in the face of adversity. In a way, even though he the letter is addressed to the white religious leaders, he is actually talking to his followers. King is telling them to resist injustice peacefully and rationally, in the same way that he is.