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On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Barack Obama spoke of the dreams Martin Luther King Jr. and the thousands who marched with him had for the future of the United States, but he also recognizes what we as Americans need to do to fulfill that dream.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” For a start, Obama alludes to the Emancipation Proclamation written by Abraham Lincoln, the first man of many to have the “flame” that burns inside for freedom. Obama goes on to say that “In 1963 almost 200 years after those words were set to paper, a full century after was fought and emancipation proclaimed, that promise–those truth—remained unmet.” Even though Lincoln had said those words, not much was done to really make it happen.
Secondly, Obama evokes imagery by illustrating the trek all to Washington D.C. “Across the land, congregations sent them off with food and with prayer. In the middle of the night, entire blocks of Harlem came out to wish them well.” Those with less money hitchhiked or walked with the group of marchers while others drove to their destination to Washington. The marchers were an array of people from seamstresses, steelworkers, teachers, students, maids and more. The march wasn’t just black people, but also white people who supported the blacks throughout the march. “And then, on a hot summer day, they assembled here, in our nation’s capital, under the shadow of the Great Emancipator.” Obama again acknowledges Abraham Lincoln as “the Great Emancipator” who without they would not be there that day.
“But we would do to recall that day also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV.” Obama doesn’t stray away from the fact that some people are still angered at the way they were treated. Many had gone to segregated schools and segregated lunch counters. They lived in towns where they couldn’t vote and cities where their votes didn’t matter. They were couples in love who could marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. “They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate.”
Another rhetorical strategy Obama utilizes is throughout the speech is repetition. The first sign of repetition is when he says “Because they marched” to get the point across that if this march didn’t happen not only blacks, but women, Jews, Asian and others would still be treated like second class citizens to this day. Heck! Obama wouldn’t even president. Another example of repetition is towards the end of the speech where Obama explains what we can do and what people are already doing to help achieve MLK Jr’s dream. He says, “The tireless teacher who gets to class early and stays late and dips into her own pocket to buy supplies because she believes that every child is her charge – she’s marching.” And also, “Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day – that change does not come from Washington, nut to Washington: that change has always been built on our willingness, We The People, to take on the mantle of citizenship – you are marching.”
All in all, Obama uses an array of rhetorical strategies to not only commemorate the 50th anniversary of March on Washington, the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. and the thousands who marched with him had for the future of the United States, but he also recognized what we as Americans needed to do to and still need to do to fulfill those dreams. “And that’s the lesson of our past. That’s the promise of tomorrow – that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.”
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