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MLK the MC

Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at March on Washington, August 1963

One of the reason that Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to be such a powerful force in the Civil Rights Movement was because he was a charismatic and acute orator. It is easy for me to see parallels in the rhetorical tactics that MLK used that are similar to that of my favorite hip hop artists.

My personal favorite used in the I Have A Dream speech is: conduplicatio. This particular rhetorical device is probably one of the lesser known. Conduplicatio is the repetition of the key word or key phrase in the beginning of sentences or phrases. So, MLK’s repetition of the phrase “I Have a Dream” over eight times in his speech reiterates a passion for his “dream” of desegregation.

Kanye West’s “Donda Chant” is another example of conduplicatio.

The more obvious rhetorical device used throughout the “I Have a Dream” speech is allusion. Allusion is defined as a figure of speech that refers to a famous person, place, or historical event—either directly or through implication.  In beginning the speech, MLK starts, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” While delivering the speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, this is a direct allusion to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation best known as the document that eradicated American chattel slavery in 1863. Chalked with several other allusions another more notable would be his closing reference to Negro spiritual “Free At Last”.

Nearly 60 years later the writing of Clarence Jones and powerful delivery by Martin Luther King Jr. withstands the test of time because of the immaculate use of various rhetorical tactics.

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