Barack Obama is best known around the world for being the first black president of the United States. Despite all his merits and status, he is aware of the importance of the people who made all this possible. President Obama did this in an address to mark the unveiling of a statue of civil rights activist Rosa Parks at the National Statuary Hall. In his address, Obama used various rhetorical means to convey or emphasize the power of her actions. When delivering his speech, the president assumes that he is speaking to an audience knowledgeable about the history of Rosa Parks. He uses a well-known image to urge listeners to “carry forward the power of her principle.”
Repetitions as the Main Rhetorical Method
Barack Obama uses in his address such means as:
- repetitions (“day after day, week after week, month after month” (Remarks by the president)),
- bible references (“walking miles […] not thinking about the blisters on their feet […] walking for freedom” (Remarks by the president))
- and personal anecdotes (“Nobody ever Rosa around and got away with it” (Remarks by the president)).
However, perhaps the president’s most notable rhetorical choice is repetition. For example, saying, “Rosa Parks would not be pushed… she would not be pushed” in the third paragraph of his speech, he emphasizes the determination of Rosa Parks in the face of the arrest (Remarks by the president). At the same time, he tells the famous story of her refusal to give up her seat on the bus, seasoning it with a personal anecdote mentioned earlier.
In addition, when discussing the determination to boycott, the president says: “walking for respect, walking for freedom” (Remarks by the president). This rhetorical repetition emphasized the fact that many in the rights movement had walked many miles in harsh conditions (as he previously mentioned in the same paragraph). This rhetorical repetition also allows for even greater emphasis on concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘respect.’ Obama thus draws attention to the fundamental human values for which all the activists, and especially Rosa Parks, fought with such passion.
Allusions in the President’s Speech
Repetition is not the only crucial rhetorical device that Barack Obama used in his speech; he also alludes to religion and the bible. These stylistic figures appear in circulation to emphasize the greatness and importance of the actions taken by Rosa Parks and other activists (Allusion). Most notably, in his speech, Obama compares the end of segregation to the destruction of “the walls of Jericho” (Remarks by the president). First of all, this allusion demonstrates the then-existing barriers, or walls, between people of different races. In addition, Obama thus shows the significance of the bus boycott by Rosa Parks and further movement. In essence, he says that the latest embargo caused events of biblical proportions.
Moreover, the then-president calls boycotts and protests worthy of God: “… driven by a solemn determination to affirm their God-given dignity” (Remarks by the president). That is important in several ways: the allusion allows the president’s address to not appeal to religious support for civil rights. In addition, it causes many holy people who have opposed desegregation and perhaps even an Obama’s presidency to admit that their God is saying that all people should be equal. It is a bold statement that was often made during the movement during the life of Rosa Parks.
Personal Examples as a Rhetorical Device
Finally, Obama uses personal experience to highlight the significance of Rosa Parks to the black community. Even at the beginning of his speech, the president emphasizes the importance and visibility of Rosa Parks not only for her contemporaries but also for modern black Americans. He refers to a quote from a childhood friend that he cites as an example: “Nobody ever Rosa around and got away with it” (Remarks by the president). He then goes on to elaborate on Rosa’s determination and perseverance. However, drawing on his personal life, Barack Obama puts himself next to all black Americans, thus speaking about the importance of the activist to him as a person. It emphasized that she is admired and well-known even today.
In addition, Obama says: “It is because of these men and women that I stand here today,” which can be considered the most important phrase in his speech. He describes the actions of Rosa Parks in a circle to show her influence not only on her present but also on the future of America. The president does this by constantly returning attention to the struggle that Rosa started. Thus, she began tearing down the walls of desegregation that could have prevented a black Barack Obama from ever becoming a president. Obama argues that Rosa Parks deserves this statue because she has essentially helped shape America today.
Throughout his address in honor of Rosa Parks, Obama draws attention to the heroism of the activist and the significance of her actions. He emphasizes that the events of the past not only influenced modern America but also shaped its future. The president promotes awareness of a great deed to the masses while realizing that his presidency would be impossible without such personalities as Rosa Parks. Barack Obama uses repetition, biblical references, and personal statements to draw attention to the heroism of Rosa Parks. The result makes listeners treat the activist with great respect and honor her legacy not only with a statue but with actions.
Allusion. (n.d.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Web.
Remarks by the president at dedication of statue honoring Rosa Parks – US capitol. (n.d.). National Archives and Records Administration. Web.