An unforgettable civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr., in his famous speech, I Have a Dream, broadcasted to the entire country, speaks out about the racial oppression still happening to African Americans in 1963, 98 years after slavery had ended. King’s purpose is to argue that some Americans are unaware of the racist realities African Americans have to face when going about their days in the 1960s and to support the end of legalized segregation that takes place in politics and daily lives as a whole. He adopts an indignant tone in order to keep those in the audience who already agree with empowered while condemning those watching who don’t see anything wrong with the racial bias in American government and society. To create this tone he uses many rhetorical strategies such as repetition, historical and religious allusions, and metaphors to all grow his argument by creating emotions within the listener that makes them more prone to support the end of legalized segregation with his solutions.
King uses different strategies of repetition in his speech by deliberately using anaphora that is able to highlight the issues of race to create hope within the audience for a better future. One specific example of anaphora is the famous line “I have a dream”. A dream is something that hasn’t happened, it’s a fantasy. By highlighting the idea of a dream and following with the ideas for a more better society he sets the standard of a country that needs improvement. Kings solution for this is to end legalized segregation for people would then be happier because of it. He creates an influential hope for a better future. Following this form of repetition, he states changes he wants to be made to society one of those being “…that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin…” appealing to men and women, black and white, with children of their own. Stating that he only wants “a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin” makes him relatable to his audience- the world- for his concern for his children like most parents have no matter color of their skin. By becoming relatable he has a higher chance of being able to relate to others as he feels as a father with children oppressed by the legal segregation. His hope for a better world is inspiring to the audience, and any good parent could say that they would want the same for their child- to live without judgment.
King also uses another instance of repetition in his speech, by using certain collective pronouns to address African Americans that when stated this way and repeated. He is a number of sentences strategically refers to the black race not as African American but rather “the negro”. He does so for a reason. King states that “the negro still is not free” and “the negro is still languished” which takes the word usually used to demonize African Americans as a reminder of the race issues still at play. That it is ‘the negro” suffering at the hands of societies then standards. Slavery ended years ago but the term of discrimination is used still and he doesn’t let it affect him, creating possible guilt within the audience who does not agree with his views on the American current culture. The term “negro” itself is a racist one, but also while it still being used is a reality check of real racism it also give empowerment to the African Americans in the crowd who can then take the world and use it as something to be proud of- because its acknowledging their struggle still to that day with racism.
He is not only able to relate to the current people of society but the past as well. By using a historical allusion as a way to quote Abraham Lincoln he equates himself with the trusted president and garners trust within the audiences. King starts off his speech with “five score years ago” a direct correlation to the Gettysburg address spoken by Lincoln. Lincoln was known as a great president and was elected twice. He also was a prominent spokesperson for ending slavery and even created the emancipation proclamation to free all slaves. By relating to someone with such high credibility in the eyes of all people about civil rights issues, male and female, black and white, he establishes a somewhat equal ideal between him and Lincoln. They both had to do with changing American society about race and focus on oppression. King relates legalized segregation to being still like slavery by drawing comparisons. An audience when trusting the source of their information is more likely to support their ideas, arguments, and spread them. The same is the case here with King and his audience, he has now may have at least captured more audience members support through establishing his trustworthiness, so when the issues he speak about afterward it’s coming from a man deemed more credible.
King uses other allusions to the Bible as well to convince his audience that legalized segregation needs to end in the American society. In going so he uses religion, which is very much prominent in American culture at the time, and uses it along with his argument makes his argument more relatable to the audience. He quotes the holy book, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”This is a very subtle reference to the bible. By proving this biblical allusion it being in a moral argument. He’s saying that this oppression was something out of their control. That they test people’s strength. However with faith in God, a powerful response can come even when the darkest of times is occurring, and that is the real struggle. This relates to the audience, many Christians, so when stated: creates more guilt for those suffering. God is seemingly the leader of all and cares for all in times of sadness. Those creating the suffering by keeping up legalized segregation then feel guilty for doing so. Many Christian believers thought this segregation was created for a reason by God in the first place. In saying things from the bible King is able to acknowledge a counter argument and refute it. Therefore when one relates to him his argument of legalized segregation no being the right thing to do becomes more favorable.
King’s hope for a peaceful and an injustice free society is prominent in the speech and his metaphors. By promoting a violent free protest against legalized segregation, he takes on a different point of view than the iter side of the argument, which can cause guilt within those watching who have used violence against African Americans. He warns fellow blacks“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” What king is comparing is that freedom is a large feeling of thirst, a want, but it should not be compromised by infighting bitter violence, for that is no solution at all. King understands the position of him and other African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement at the time. He knows that anger is a large possibility when it comes when touching upon the topic of violence. Yet he does not want those fighting for his cause to appear the same way oppressors do, because they are the victims. By promoting peace and only using peaceful protests he condemns the other side of the argument, making the country guilty and feel bad for them. He instructs them how to act exactly with “a high plane of dignity and discipline” and to “meeting physical force with soul force”. King is comparing the struggle of equality to “dignity and discipline” to become the “high plain”. King true principals are keeping peace and spreading love while battling the oppression legalized segregation still kept in place. This was what King desired could only be ended when achieved through, peaceful protest. For with peaceful protests the violence used by those who support segregation, while already bad, still to the majority of the American public to make them feel guilty and sorry for those suffering. Encouraging the end of legalized segregation itself.
King also uses the metaphor of comparing the treatment of African Americans to a bad check, in doing so he condemns the American government for not sticking to promises made during founding that arises anger in the audience for injustice. King addressing his audience about the government states”given negro people a bad check” and that “bank of justice is bankrupt” but that“we’ve come to cash this check”. By comparing the situation to a check he is able to establish a point to his argument and evoke the relating feelings. A check is a promise to receive money that the person supposedly has, but a “bad check” is a promise that falls through. King, is saying the bad check is the promises made in the declaration of independence, that “all men are created equal”. Which obviously wasn’t followed through for hundreds of years people of color remained enslaved and then segregated. Him standing there now is him ready “cash this check” he will not stand down until things are changed, for good, by ending legalized segregation. By making this metaphor to arguing his purpose, it can arise anger in the audience. If someone went to the bank and was told the check was bad they would be angry too. Anger is a very influential emotion, it’s an emotion that makes people act, and King is using that, in this case, to try to get people to protest against legalized segregation so it ends.
Forgetting the purpose of the argument, King’s speech, in general, was very empowering, and a big step in the civil rights movement for African Americans. However with the use of these rhetorical strategies make the steps forward nit just be words but become actions an laws put into place in American government. The means to end legal segregation.
Societal Segregation: The Battle of African Americans for Centuries. (2019, Nov 27).
Retrieved October 19, 2021 , from
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