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Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Barack Obama are all well-known African American figures in American history. The three people struggled for their positions but in different ways. They were also passionate civil rights leaders, but they took different paths to pursue their agendas. The threesome had a lot riding on the clarity of their points, and their fortunes were built on their ability to encourage, persuade, and infuriate. Their rhetorical tactics would be compared and contrasted in the article.
On April 3, 1964, Malcolm X delivered his iconic speech The Ballot or the Bulletin Cleveland, Ohio (King, 231). The speech was about his opinion on the treatment of African Americans by the whites in the United States. Malcolm uses logos, ethos, and pathos throughout his speech which apparently excites his audience and enables him to get his points across. Repetition of the words "the ballot or the bullet" is evident throughout the speech and captures the attention of the listener. The rhetorical appeal of ethos can be seen in the statement's introductory comments where Malcolm introduces himself to the audience as a Muslim who follows the Islamic religion. Also, Malcolm uses pathos from the onset of his speech to the end. The first pathos is evident when he talks about the white man's actions. In additional, Malcolm uses logos commonly known as logical proofs. The technique is obvious when he speaks about the country's progress in the last ten years in his statement that they are not far up as they were in 1954 but are far much behind.
Martin Luther King is famous for his eloquence in speech delivery. In his famous speech, I have a dream which he delivered in Washington DC in March 1963 demonstrates his power with spoken words (King, 231). Over the course of his address, King uses several rhetoric devices. Repetition of the keywords and phrases is evident such as "I have a dream" which reinforces his future visions, a dream of racial equality. King also uses metaphors to create an image in the mind of the listener and beautify his language (Zarefsky, 230). His metaphors are not only well crafted but also powerful. For example, the metaphor of the mountain of despair illuminates the struggles of the African Americans in quest of civil rights who like a prospector will dig deep into the rock to attain liberty. Additionally, Martin Luther King uses parallel phrasing to create the rhythm to create a spectacle for the listeners.
Barack Obama’s speech on race on March 18, 2008, portrays him an orator who is willing to speak about racial issues publicly that are often overlooked (King, 233). He effectively uses rhetorical strategies to deliver his points. The effectiveness of his speech is grounded on four rhetoric strategies that include his resonance for parallel constructions, a power of allusion along with its patriotic associations, the two-ness of the texture as well as his prowess in including himself as a character in the narrative. Through parallelism, Obama makes the meaning more memorable. An example of parallelism is when he says that they are embracing their past burdens without becoming former victims. The persuasion methods of the three leaders have some similarities and differences. They all use the repetition of key phrases and words to capture the listener’s attention. King and Obama also use parallelism and allusions to a great extent in their speeches. However, King uses more rhetoric strategies than Obama and Malcolm, and this makes his statements unique. Malcolm uses logical proofs more than the other two.
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In my opinion, Martin Luther King is more efficient and a passionate preacher who use various vocal techniques in the reinforcement of his ideas. His language has a rhythm that makes the listener expectant on when he will utter the next key point. Besides, King alters his volume along with the pace that leads to crescendos during the critical moments, and he pauses for applauses. The three men view America as a solution rather than a problem.
King, Cynthia P. "A Review of “Will of a People: A Critical Anthology of Great African American Speeches” by Richard W. Leeman and Bernard K. Duffy (Eds.) (2012). Carbondale, IL: Southern University Illinois Press. 474 pages. (2014): 231-233.
Zarefsky, David. "Strategic maneuvering through persuasive definitions: Implications for dialectic and rhetoric." Rhetorical Perspectives on Argumentation. Springer International Publishing, 2014. 129-143.
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