King revealed his talent for public speaking as early as in high school, where he was a successful member of a debate team (Fleming, 2008). His academic path, which resulted in acquiring a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and divinity, and Ph.D. in systematic theology, certainly contributed to his mastery of both spoken and written word. King as an excellent public speaker was familiar with principles and techniques of winning the support of his listeners. One of such techniques is ethos. It encompasses several concepts such as moral right, expertise, or knowledge required to speak about the subject with the audience. In King’s case, his being African American and uniting himself with the public even further through the use of the second person makes Ethos pre-established. In addition, he calls upon the word of God to speak about the equality of people (King, 1963).
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The second mode of persuasion King demonstrated in his speech was pathos. Pathos is the use of people’s emotions. A speaker could create empathy or instigate fear into his audience by appealing to their senses. King used this technique to inspire people to fight and do not stop fighting for equality in economic, civil, and basic human rights. For instance, he said, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds” (King, 1963, para. 4). This phrase appeals to the bitter feeling of hopelessness and despair from being poor – a feeling that many African Americans had not once in those times.
The third mode, Logos, or the appeal to logic, was demonstrated by King in his phrase “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now” (King, 1963, para. 6). By hallowed spot he meant the Lincoln memorial, implying that Lincoln was also advocating for the equal rights of African Americans and that a place was chosen for a reason.
Department of Education and Public Programs. (n.d.). Analyzing the rhetoric of JFK’s inaugural address. Web.
Dugan, A. & Newport, F. (2013). Americans rate JFK as top modern president. Web.
Fleming, A. (2008). Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, NY: Sterling.
King, M., L., Jr. (1963). I have a dream, Web.
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Teaching with documents: FDR’s first inaugural address. (2016). Web.