Tuesday, October 5, 2010

“Could You Lower Those Signs, Please?”

Fig.1 Plaque in present day Indianapolis, Indiana. IN.gov. Picture. 5 Oct 2010
On April 4th, 1968, Robert Kennedy was to give a speech to a mostly African American audience. Even though Kennedy was supposed to give a campaign rally for the democratic nomination, he quickly changed his mind when he heard of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. What could have been a mass riot in what was considered a dangerous ghetto in Indiana became an inspirational time for all Americans and a call to unity between blacks and whites (Fig. 1). While delivering his "Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.", Robert Kennedy uses parallelism to describe the emotions of the audience but also uses his experiences to inspire unity between blacks and whites.

From the second paragraph on, Kennedy attempts to relate to the audience by describing possible reactions after the news of someone's death. One of the reactions he proposes is to be "...filled with bitterness, and with hatred and a desire for revenge". He then persuades the reader to deter from this by describing that it will cause "...greater polarization--black people amongst blacks, and white among whites, filled with hatred towards one another". Also, by mentioning the death of his brother, he exemplifies how pointless it would be to oppose a race of people. Instead, Kennedy proposes to "...make an effort in the United States" to "...replace the violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love". This parallelism is successful because it rationalizes with the audience as to how they should react and manages to do so in a nonviolent way.

A dichotomy is not only shown between emotions but also to relate the issue of race. In the 60's, tension between blacks and whites was high and the death of a black man by a white man only increased the tension. Throughout his speech, Kennedy refers to blacks and whites separately which adds attention to the different races. He talks about the reactions "...for those of you who are black..." and then talks about his reactions as a white person. He could have easily combined the two races but talking about them as different groups added to the dichotomy of emotions described above and created a more universal message at the end.

As a transition into speaking about Americans as a whole, Kennedy cites a poem by Aeschylus. The poem talks about pain and how after a certain amount of time it transforms into "wisdom through the awful grace of God". This poem relates to the topic by reminding the audience that after pain comes wisdom and by using "our" multiple times in the poem, a mood of unity is created. From here on, Kennedy brings the speech together by referring to the emotions he used to show parallelism as a way of bringing Americans together; he tells America what they don't need as opposed to what they do need. He also unites his audience by talking about the wants of "...the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people..." and implementing a call to action to "...tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world". By giving both blacks and whites a task to do together, the division that Kennedy works so hard to build throughout the speech crumbles to leave a group of blacks and whites united under one person: Martin Luther King Jr.

Work Cited
"Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.". Robert F. Kennedy. American Rhetoric, 2010.Web.5 Oct 2010.

Work Consulted
Gavin, Phillip. "Robert F. Kennedy: On the Death of Martin Luther King Jr." Great Speeches Collection. The History Place, 2010. Web. 5 Oct 2010.