I can still remember the days when my grandfather would sit me down and discuss the powerful speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. I can also my grandfather always telling me in great detail how King had such a way with words that my grandfather could still , many years after, vividly recite passages from some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s lesser known speeches like “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” and “ Where do we go from here?” . He would also tell me how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would use his powerful appeals to take his audience on a journey through his eyes, while he discussed issues he saw in the world. Even today his rhetorical strategies can be seen in modern speeches from activists like Alicia Garza, a civil rights activist partnered with black lives matter, who also uses similar rhetorical strategies to bring awareness to police brutality in modern American society. King and Garza use logical, ethical, and emotional appeals to convey a deeper sense of understanding about discrimination ,inequality, and the power of nonviolent protest in a corrupt society in the past and in the present.
Alicia Garza, the co-creator of the Blacks Lives Matter movement, appeals to her audiences’ emotions on police brutality and the silenced voices of the Black community can be compared to King’suse ofan emotional appeal to bring attention to the issues of segregation in 1960’s America. She does this in her speech “Why Black Lives Matter” by discussing the untimely deaths of Black men and Black women who were killed by the hands of the police. She mentions names like, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice and the reason they were killed. By mentioning these examples of police brutality, she is invoking the audience, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to empathize with the individuals who lost their lives simply because of the color of their skin, while also making the audience connect with their own personal emotions pertaining to death, murder, and the abuse of power. Garza chooses to revive their deaths in her speech to strengthen her argument on how black people in America are still treated like less than human.
Additionally, Dr.Martin Luther King’ also uses emotional appeals in both his speeches: “Where do we go from here” and “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”. This is evident due to the emotional language that King used to create a heart-wrenching narrative that is able to be felt by anyone who has experienced oppression or hatred of any kind. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. initially does this when he begins discussing the power of loving those who may treat you like you are beneath them. King dives deeper into this topic when he notes in “Where Do We Go From Here”, “…I’ve seen hate on too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the south to want to hate myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear.”.
This can also be seen in “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” where Dr. Martin Luther King claims that, “The plantation and ghetto were created by those who had power, both to confine those who had no power to perpetuate their powerlessness.”. In both statements, Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. was insisting that despite the amount of hate and the fact that African-Americans could not truly fight back, there needed to be awareness to the oppression that he had faced. This demonstrates King’s strength by discussing these issues and accepting that discrimination takes place. He conveyed this sense of love and raw honesty by using words like “White Klansmen”, “hate”, and “powerlessness” due to the negative connotation the words have, which instills a sad/ emotional response in the audience and portrays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal feelings toward the many issues African-Americans faced in 1960’s America and still resonates with the modern generation because of the similarities in racism and power that still affects African- Americans today.
King’s ability to use objective information to support his subjective arguments was probably one of the many influences to Garza’s aptitude for articulating her opinions on social issues by using factual data and statistics. Garza earns veneration from the audience, when she talks about upsetting the system that dictates how much of a difference the Black Lives Matter movement can make in terms of social change and mentions needing to create a strong foundation to promote said change. She does this by choosing to reference an excerpt from Frederick Douglass, an American social reformer, which reminds the audience that, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground…”.
Garza also brings attention to the process of social change when she lists the three lessons she has personally learned from her experience as an activist. She goes into great detail about the relationships that need to be formed in order to successfully achieve the change that you, as an organization, want to see in society. And mentions her longing for less African- Americans being killed by the hands of the police and more police receiving charges for their crimes when, “Each year, there are more than 1,000 fatal shootings that occur by on duty police officers. Each year, less that 5 of those shootings on average result in a charge of murder or manslaughter against those cops.” Her choice of an ethical and logical appeal provides a strong backbone in her argument towards why black lives matter by having a perspective that was influenced by credible sources and daunting statistics. Kings reference to true power in America strengthens his argument and correlates with Garza’s claim about diversity and the misuse of police authority in black communities. However, his connection about all life being interrelated actually weakens his argument to due to the use of generalizations like, “You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific Islander”. This description may create a visual picture in the audience’s mind but fails to support the reasoning and precision needed to make a strong logical claim.
However, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has strengths and weaknesses in terms of articulating his ideas through rhetoric. His connection of different scenarios in both speeches shows how well rounded he is on the topic by showing how the oppression African-Americans’ face have many different correlations with issues outside of racism by mentioning leaders like Walter Reuther, a civil rights activist in “Where Do We Go From Here” and how you can’t get leave for your job without the rest of the world in “A Christmas Sermon On Peace”. By making a connection between different forms of power and the interrelationship between the United States and the rest of the world. King’s approach makes the audience ask about what it means to have power in society and how we all need one another (especially on a global perspective). He reminds the audience of Walter Reuther, a political leader, who said, “Power is the ability of a labor union like the UAW to make powerful the most powerful corporation in the world, General Motors, say ‘Yes’ when it wants to say ‘No.’ That’s power”. The audience is able to associate themselves with these examples because of the familiarity of a real world case on the matter of power, and the Cohesiveness of the world. The use real world examples in his speech provides tangible situations that the audience is familiar with, which strengthens his plea about political power and the connections within a global society.
In conclusion, King and Garza use rhetorical devices like emotional, logical, and ethical appeals to enhance their stances on social issues in the United States. Their use of emotional appeals creates a deeper sense of understanding for the audience, even if they may not have experienced issues like police brutality or oppression. While the ethical and logical appeals were used to give both civil rights activists credibility because it gave the audience the impression that they were well versed on the issues they were advocating for. But what makes King and Garza so influential in today’s society is their ability to connect with all audiences regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, or political differences.