Racism in the United States is a highly contentious topic, especially among African-Americans. Despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence declared that all persons were made equal, black people in America were victimized and segregated as a result of a crooked judicial system. As a result, African-Americans decided to combat the oppressive machine that was discriminated against them, resulting in the rise of many civil rights activists. Martin Luther King Jr., the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was the most influential African-American protester. King was at the forefront of advocating for civil rights applying the strategies of nonviolence and civil disobedience through boycotts and peaceful protests (Wadud, 2013). Among all King’s civil right related exertions, the “I Have a Dream” speech which was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was the most influential that changed America. The speech was a land mark since it was one of the pioneers of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The speech had a significant impact since it managed to illustrate racism issue in the United States through provoking the average white audience into feeling sympathy and shame while giving hope to the African-American population. It is evident that King carefully structures his speech to appeal to the diverse audience with the application of three rhetorical modes of logos, ethos, and pathos to appeal to the audience stand against racial segregation.
The “I Have a Dream” speech, King, efficiently utilizes logos to appeal to the audience. In the speech, king refers to the Emancipation of Proclamation as evidence of his statement. Therefore, King’s statements were based on established facts and figures. (Washington, 1986). “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” King uses an authentic document that was signed 100 years earlier which applied the intellectual and an established authority of Lincoln .Therefore, King established trust and common grounds with the intended audience through valid evidence of information used in the speech (Wadud, 2013). King furthermore uses logos in his speech when he states, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” King analogy uses logic as a form of reasoning for the audience. King reason is that everyone understands money since it is a prevailing thing in life hence the audience will be able to relate to being handed a bad check (Vail, 2006). Therefore, logos ensure that an argument or a statement appears to be sound or a proven truth for it to influence the stand of the audience. Moreover, King logically speaks about discrimination and segregation which was in contradiction of the established constituiton. He said, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” He reasons with the audience that nothing is going to get better in the United States until elimination of discrimination and segregation of people in the United States. Therefore, King gives valid explanation to reason with audience to appeal them to stand against racial inequality and segregation.
Also, Martin Luther King utilizes ethos to appeal to the public. Ethos mode of persuasion requires a reliable foundation; something that is competent, credible and empathetic. Hence, King talks about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (Wadud, 2013). He states, “This note promised 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.’ His application on these documents shows that credible references have been used to illustrate how the government had failed to uphold its promises to its people (Washington, 1986). Therefore, he showed the audience that the government was neither credible nor fair since it did not held it’s constitutional mandate of ensuring that all men are equal under the law.
Martin Luther King also relies on pathos to induce an emotional response from the audience through engaging to their feelings, desires, and fears (Vail, 2006). King leads the audience’s emotions to go along his plans to make them sympathize with the black people and give hope to them. He provokes emotional responses from both the African Americans and white people. Through biblical allusion by use of the book of Isaiah causes an emotional response. He states, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Washington, 1986). He implies that all people need to have faith and unite together in the fight against racism. Additionally, King evokes emotional responses through the use of relatable content. King states, “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” The American dream is used to appeal to his entire audience; the American dream is freedom for all people (Wadud, 2013). These cause emotional responses because they are relatable and therefore people can empathize with them. Moreover, King uses the plea that he is a parent and wants a better life for his children. King says, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.” Therefore, the statement enables the audience to relate to him as a father and the hopes white parents in the audience will be empathetic of the struggles of the black people. Since all parents want the best for their children and they would be empathetic of what children of black people go through in America.
In conclusion, King applies his literary prowess to creatively fight racial segregation in America and give hope to the African American people of a better life. King innovatively synchronized all rhetorical modes to optimize the opportunity he had to address the Nation on Racial segregation.
Vail, M. The” Integrative” Rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr.’s” I Have a Dream” Speech. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 2006, pp. 51-78.
Wadud, I. (2013). Free but not Equal”: In the Wake of Trayvon Martin—American Anger and Visual Activism. Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, 55.
Washington, J. M. (1986). The essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: HarperOne, 100.