This study of the instrumental and constitutive rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963) and Frederick Douglass's “Introduction” to The Reason Why the Colored American is not in the World's Columbian Exposition: The Afro-American's Contribution to Columbian Literature (1893) explores both the striking similarities between the rhetorical characteristics of the texts and their contrasting receptions. Whereas King's “Letter” took advantage of the powerful zeitgeist of the Civil Rights Movement, Douglass's “Introduction” was stymied by the oppressive climate of the late-nineteenth century, including the conservative self-help movement that dominated African American's responses to discrimination and opportunity.

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