"We preach freedom around the world…that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes." President Kennedy was describing our society when he addressed the nation after the controversial decision to admit two qualified Negroes into the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He said that the university should be place for all to have "equal chance to develop their talents." Kennedy's speech consisted of specific issues affecting the nation and its foundation of freedom. President Kennedy shows awareness of the current issue of segregation using imagery, appropriate language, and tone, which assures the public with compelling remarks that he appreciates those who are making a change and requiring the help of others to change the view of this nation.
In Kennedy's speech, the repetitive use of "it ought to be possible" is an effective way to point out the different levels of freedom that restricted the average Negro citizen. With this phrase, it leads into the point that "every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated." From a different point of view, number phrases were also successful and effective in his speech. Kennedy included phrases such as one-half, one-third, twice as much, and half as much to indicate the chances of an average American Negro to complete certain obstacles equivalent to the average white American. The motivation for such number references is relevant and leads up to Kennedy's thought that "a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics." Within the speech, Kennedy described this nation to be "founded on the principle that all men are created equal;" however, this applied to everyone but Negroes in the community. Lincoln freed the slaves more than a hundred years ago, but to this day, the slaves' great-grandchildren are not fully freed from discrimination and prosperity.
While the speech was directed toward the American people, Kennedy was also addressing his speech to Congress. He emphasized that Congress, or any legislative body, can no longer ignore such events. As shown in Figure 1, the wide range of citizens taking the first step to change is appreciated by Kennedy.
Fig.1. Danny Lyon. USA. Atlanta, Georgia. Winter 1963-1964. A Toddle House sit-in by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). (NYC17748). Magnum Photos. 01 Jan. 1962. eLibrary. Web. 04 Oct. 2010.
He reminds us that "Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality." Unfortunately, sometimes voluntary actions will not promote others, which is why legislation was needed. Kennedy spoke to the public that he will ask Congress "to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law." In fact, Congress has made few propositions to employ Negro citizens and lead a small narrow path to their future. Kennedy complains that "other necessary measures" are needed to move the nation forward in which only Congress can provide. In the speech, Kennedy provides the imagery of the many struggles Negro families go through. For example, Negro children will have "suffered a loss which can never be restored" by attending segregated schools and not experiencing the wide variety of struggles that compose the enriched experiences of the human mind. Kennedy calls for every citizen to recognize the evil being poured out on the nation's streets that is seen by him as hostile "sense of human decency." With this in mind, he leads into his main point the struggles of a American Negro that consists of unemployment, inadequate education, denied equal rights, and denial the opportunities of human society.
President Kennedy asked all people, including citizens and Congressmen, to realize that this nation needs to live with justice for a better day. Kennedy appropriately used repetitive words, imagery, and tone to recognize the wrongdoing of many Americans. Using number phrases to indicate the chances of accomplishing goals and the repetitive use of "it ought to be possible," Kennedy was able to question the American way of being "free." He called for the support of all Americans to encourage peaceful protests and acknowledged the help of the few Americans who took the initiative already. Kennedy successfully stated the problem and solution in his speech using appropriate language to persuade the American public.
Kennedy, John F. "Civil Rights Address." American Rhetoric. N.p., 11 June 1963. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.
Sitton, Claude. "Alabama Admits Negro Students;Wallace Bows to Federal Force;Kennedy Sees 'MoralCrisis' in U.S." Editorial. The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 12 June 1963. Web.4 Oct. 2010.