Kennedy provided a
uniting eulogy for Martin Luther King Jr. in the wake of his assassination. By matching
his speaking style to the demographics of the country he was able to connect
with his audience. He adapted his words to the cultural norms of the time and
within them reflected the diversity of the nation(Chuang). He identified with
the psychology of the audience and given a short amount of time was able to effectively
deliver a message without being verbose. All in all, Kennedy established a
level of ethos that was recognized by his black and white listeners. He was
able to use the event to help bring the nation together in peace as it was
The racially divided demographic of the United States influenced
Kennedy’s style. His audience was full of mourners. Kennedy spoke candidly and
announces the somber news they are about to receive. There was a large split in
the nation at the time so while part of his audience was a mourning black
population, another portion was comprised of racist white Americans. Kennedy’s style is somber but firm. He states,
“…it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we
want to move in.” He is addressing both whites and blacks with the statement
and playing on their heightened emotions (39 Years).
Kennedy made several attempts to reflect on the culture of
the nation at the time. “For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill
with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act,
against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart
the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed
by a white man.” There is no dancing around the issues of the time. There was a
huge racial divide in the nation and Kennedy wants the black listeners to
follow in Dr. King’s footsteps. This is critical as the large population of
peaceful protesting black Americans could have quickly turned violent in the
wake of King’s assassination (39 Years).
Kennedy identifies with the audience and the psychology held
by those discriminated blacks, the racist whites and those not taking any
action. He instructs them to go home and pray, “…but more importantly to say a
prayer for our own country, which all of us love…” These unifying words play on
the nationalism held by the racist whites. It attempts to channel the emotions
of those black Americans anguished by Dr. King’s assassination, and it calls to
action those sitting on the sidelines(Chuang).
Kennedy uses time management well to grab his audience’s
attention quickly and instructs them to listen closely. Yet he takes the time
to make personal remarks, “lower the signs please.” He doesn’t have a lot of
time, but he has enough time to mourn with his audience and connect with them.
These contrast of getting down to the point but still sharing his emotion was a
good use of Time management as a method to captivate his audience (Chuang).
Kennedy Ethos convinces people to not seek vigilance, to not
be bitter or full of hatred. He wants the audience to feel as sad as he does
about Dr. King’s death and furthermore use said mourning to become energized
and do something positive about it for the betterment of the nation (39 Years).
Through his effective rhetoric Kennedy established a level
of ethos that was recognized by his black and white listeners. He was able to
use the event to help bring the nation together in peace as it was splitting
“39 Years Ago: Robert F.
Kennedy’s Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. April 4, 196.” The Journal
of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 55, 2007, pp. 5.
Chuang, M., & Hart, P. (2008).
Suburban American Punks and the Musical Rhetoric of Green Day’s “Jesus of Suburbia.”
Communication Studies, 59(3), 183–201. https://doi.org/10.1080/10510970802257499
Kennedy, Robert F., “Statement on
Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 1968.