Rhetorical Analysis On John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address

Racism has been around since eight-hundred BC (Beard). Even after President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863, racism in the United States was still obscurely prominent. Civil rights were becoming an active request by many ethnicities who lived and performed as well citizens of the United States. President John F. Kennedy, ninety-eight years later, had seen enough of the racism in his country and had the power and motivation to do something about it. John F. Kennedy used repetition, logos, pathos, description, and imagery in his “Civil Rights Address” speech effectively, which made it appealing to those who listened. Michelle Bingert stated, “On June 11th of 1963, Kennedy delivered a powerful speech on behalf of the groups who so desperately needed to be heard,” (2) where she agrees that John F Kennedy’s speech was indeed effective and powerful. In 1963, Kennedy was fighting for the freedom of all men with plans to bring civil rights legislation to the congress.

As John F. Kennedy’s speech was well thought out and uses many effective forms of persuasiveness that gets the audience intrigued. Repetition is one of many important parts of this speech that help bring emphasis to certain points. Hence used eight times throughout the speech, you can indeed see that it is a key part to the persuasiveness of this elaborate speech. Kennedy introduces repetition in just the third paragraph with the statement, “It ought to be possible… It ought to to be possible… it ought to be possible… It ought to be possible.” Kennedy is making the brain unknowingly take the information and making it stick in the heads of those who listened due to the repetition of “it ought to be possible” over and over again. Repetition and/or rule of thirds is used in almost every paragraph contributing to the point Kennedy is trying to get across the nation. The use of repetition in this speech brings more emphasis and enthusiasm towards his main goal of the speech.

Similarly, to the use of repetition, logos and pathos are also used throughout the entire speech. Kennedy opens his speech with a sturdy statistic to inform the public of the success two African Americans who performed and acted as good citizens to the United States. Kennedy brings attention to this point to show how he wants those same rights and privileges for all races in America without having to do more than the average caucasian just to get those privileges. Pathos, the emotional appeal, is substantially strong and influential due to the logos that supports his form of pathos. When John F. Kennedy says, “Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise” that is one of many strong examples of pathos in this speech. The sentence following that one states, “The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them,” which is logos backing up that previous statement of pathos. Not only is that logos statement also pathos, due to the emotional appeal it gives off, but that statement gives evidence to places the events were happening in.

As pathos is backed up by logos in most of the speech, making it effective and substantial, Kennedy made the nation feel and see what he was talking about by his use of extremely vivid words. He made his pathos even more tactic with the use of description and imagery. One of the most moving and illustrated quotes from this speech is, “They are not freed yet from the bonds of injustice. They are not freed yet from social and economic oppression. And this Nation for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not fully be free until its citizens are free.” John F. Kennedy gave an oral speech yet the nation can see that statement, the nation can see the African Americans held back by ball and chain from justice and freedom. Description and imagery play a very important role to a persuasive speech because if he can make the nation see the inequality the other races have to deal with, he can effectively persuade them to open their eyes and be more optimistic about giving all races the same rights they have themselves. John F. Kennedy used imagery that put the whites in the shoes of the blacks making them understand and visually see what life is like for them. Kennedy puts the nation in a vulnerable position for making them change their minds about their own opinions making this a crucial part of the effectiveness of his speech.

As racism has been around for many years, Lincoln was the first president to act upon the problem but Kennedy took a different approach that appealed to the citizens of the United States. Kennedy effectively brought forth many problems African Americans faced and made those who were against equal rights for that ethnicity optimistic about the new rights the president was trying to enforce. Kennedy could not make this change alone and needed the rest of the nation to be on board as well. As he used many effective forms of rhetorical devices and rhetorical elements he got many to agree to the proposal of equal rights for all. Kennedy was fighting for the freedom of over 10% of Americans that did not receive the same rights as the rest of the population. On June 11th, 1963 Kennedy performed an outstandingly risky speech to the United States about a problem he was extremely passionate about solving. Giving equal rights to all Americans was president John F. Kennedy’s job he was trying to fulfill.

Works Cited

  • Beard, Mary. “A Don’s Life: Racism in Greece and Rome.” The Times Literary Supplement. 22 January 2007. https://www.the-tls.co.uk/racism-in-greece-and-rome/. 20 December 2018.
  • Bingert, Michelle “John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address Analysis Draft.” Chameleon. 5 Oct. 2012.http://sites.psu.edu/michellebingertrclblog/2012/10/05/john-f-kennedys-civil-rights-address-analysis-draft/ . 20 December 2018.