“I Have A Dream” Rhetorical Strategies

Updated April 21, 2022

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“I Have A Dream” Rhetorical Strategies essay

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On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington D.C., starting from Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. A lot of civil rights groups, labor unions, and religious organizations sponsored and participated in this big event to demonstrate for the desegregation of political, civil, and economic aspects for other races, especially for African Americans. This march was reported as the largest gathering for civil rights at that time with no violent incidents between the protesters and the police. After the march, at the destination, which was the Lincoln Memorial, representatives of the sponsoring organizations delivered speeches about equality of the people. For the last speech, the first president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference and one of the notable activists, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the powerful and outstanding speech, “I Have a Dream”. The speech had a huge impact on society, drawing a great amount of attention to the racial discrimination issues from not only the people in the United States, but also from all over the world. King’s speech impressed on the people by comparing the history of equal rights and fairness to King’s period, provoking the audience to feel sympathy by illustrating the racial discrimination that African Americans had to go through, and giving solidarity and hope to the African-American population that they can have the equal right as whites do, using different rhetorical appeals such as logos, ethos, and pathos, and different rhetorical tropes such as metaphor and repetition.

King opened the speech by drawing attention from the crowd and pointing out the history of equal rights of African Americans and white people. He suggested the United States and Lincoln to establish the credibility. He narrated that “Five score years ago”, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of United States, “signed the Emancipation Proclamation” that declared the freedom of slaves and African Americans were no longer be treated as slaves and properties (King 1). King used this evidence to show that even Lincoln, one of the most admired men and role model of a lot of people, supported the freedom of blacks. King used another example and stated that “when the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note” that indicated the fact that “all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (1). Like Lincoln, the founding fathers of the United States also supported the equal rights of all human being. All the citizens of the United States, including black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and other race, should have equal right in every aspect of the society. Not only King established credibility with these two historical facts, but they also helped to make the connection between the audience and the historical figures that they were sharing the same idea, which was the racial equality, and could get support from the great men of hundreds of years ago. However, in contrast, King illustrated the current unequal situation of African Americans’ by using metaphor. He compared America to bank and stated that “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “Insufficient funds.”” (2). Since America achieved the independence from the United Kingdom, America had promised the equal rights of all human being regarding the race, but in King’s time period, the promise was not kept. Blacks got bad checks, living in poverty and under segregation, but whites got the normal checks, having the freedom and no segregation. Comparing the blacks with bad checks, King emphasized the ultimate goal, to “demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice” (2). By using ethos, logos, and metaphor, King contrasted the documented equality and the real-life equality and made connection with historical figures to encourage the audience to pay attention and realized the real-world issue of segregation.

King continued the speech by illustrating the miserable situation of African Americans, provoking the audience to feel sympathy. He juxtaposed the sufferings that people with colored skin had go through after they got freedom from President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. According to King, blacks were “the victims of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality” and could not “gain lodging in the motels”, their “basic mobility is from a small ghetto to a larger one”, their children were “stripped of their adulthood and robbed of their dignity by sings stating “For Whites Only””, and “the Negro in Mississippi could not vote and the Negros in New York believe he had nothing for which to vote” (3). As King narrated the sufferings they had to endure, blacks didn’t have the rights that they should ought to have as whites did. Unlike blacks, whites had no fear of police brutality, they could sleep wherever they wanted during road trips, could move from big city to another big city, could get better service from restaurants with “Whites Only” signs, and also could choose their leaders by voting. Their status was considered as in between property and citizen American citizens. By juxtaposing, people in the march, especially African Americans, felt kinship with others and whites could feel sympathy and regret their behaviors. In addition to juxtaposition, before King narrated the African Americans’ sufferings, he repeated the phrase “we can never be satisfied” (3). This phrase emphasized the sufferings and the fact that they would be unstoppable until they got the same rights with whites. By using logos, pathos, and repetition, King succeed to draw attention and bring empathy about the racial discrimination issues that every black was going through in the United States.

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“I Have A Dream” Rhetorical Strategies. (2022, Apr 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/i-have-a-dream-rhetorical-strategies/


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