Home Free Lab ReportsIn Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop

In Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop

In Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” he uses the speech as an empowering sermon technique to encourage the audience to continue the fight for social and economic justice. The speech mainly focused on the Memphis sanitation workers strike, which occurred in April 1968. The strike promoted the advancement of colored and African American people in a time where they were unequally treated and discriminated against, bringing attention to the problems that have been affecting the people of color for many years. Mr. King constructed the speech in such a way so that the audience could listen, understand, relate and respect his speech. “As a seasoned orator, King soaks in the sighs and sounds of his audience. He lets the listeners ratchet up the emotional pitch of his rhetoric in the verbal exchange that makes the best black preaching an electrifying experience” (Michael). Mr. King did this so that the audience could understand and take in the significance of the message that he was trying to convey. The speech is also filled with religious allusions that are meant to show the audience how religious teaching can guide their actions for the protest. Mr. King relies upon his audience’s deep biblical literacy and its keen sense of implied meaning to get the connection and to flesh out his prophetic message (Michael).
Mr. King desired peaceful approaches towards racial equality. In his nonviolent approach in the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis, he offered his audience the choice of whether to accept his powerful message, while using his rhetorical discourse to eliminate division among the audience and convince them to go in the direction of nonviolent demonstration for civil and economic rights.
As Mr. King’s general intention is to convince as many people possible to support the Memphis sanitation strike, he frequently uses elements of logos, pathos, and ethos to inspire and instruct his audience. Mr. King uses pathos which is an appeal to emotion so that the audience can relate to and empathize with the situation the sanitation workers are in and the injustice they are subjected to “and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of Gods children suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this is going to come out” (King). It seems that Mr. King is trying to make the audience relate to the hardships of the sanitation workers, and encourage the audience to march for the thirteen hundred workers who suffer from unjust treatment. Mr. King claims protesters are not going to be scared or stopped by police dogs or fire hoses. He gives the example of the protests in Birmingham, Alabama, when the authorities tried to prevent them from marching, but the protesters stayed united and believed and continued to strive to reach their goal.
Moving on, Mr. King appeals to the audience using logical arguments, convincing the unfairly treated, African American audience of their economic power, he does this by saying “We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it” (King). In the speech Mr. King also uses ethos by saying that “somewhere I read of freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech, Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.” Mr. King is trying to say here that the unfairly treated African Americans has the right to freedom of speech and that they have the first amendment right to peacefully protest.
Mr. King also uses a very interesting rhetorical technique by moving around and highlighting the different times and people that he thought was historically important this makes him gain authority by using ethos with the help of historical references that help him come across as knowledgeable:
I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides, and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon applause, and I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would go on even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire, and I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there (King).
Hence creating a sense of pride and unity in his audience. As it brought them back to times of power and pride, when the world was just and equal.
Furthermore, it seems that Mr. King is trying to make a comparison between African Americans and slaves in Ancient Egypt to show that to win the fight against discrimination African Americans needs to be united. “I would take my mental flight by Egypt and would watch Gods children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promise land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there” (King). He also conveys that he has strong hope for America and that everyone living in the local communities of Memphis should come together to obtain equality for people of all color and races.
Lastly Mr. King ends his speech off by saying that, “like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised-land ” (King). Here Mr. King continues to discuss the importance of the struggle regardless of how painful it becomes, assuring his audience that they will win the fight, and that a time will come where they will be free, and not be discriminated against.” One day our society will come to respect the sanitation workers, if it is to survive”. The structure of this speech consists of the background, the present and the climax, where the speech then stops. Personally I think that Mr. King gave the audience hope, in order to take non-violent action and maintain unity again.