Tasks: A Rhetorical Analysis of I Have a Dream - Engelsk 2 - NDLA (2023)

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Analyse President Obama's speech:

In 2015, President Barack Obama gave a speech in connection with the fifty-year anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches. In the box you will find an excerpt from the speech he gave.

Use the following questions to structure your text:

  1. Who is speaking?

  2. Where and when are they speaking?

  3. Why are they speaking?

  4. Who is the target audience?

  5. How are they trying to convince their audience?

Also, remember to identify the literary and rhetorical devices the author has used, give examples from the text, and comment on what is achieved by using these devices.

President Obama's speech

The speech was held at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Alabama, 7 March, 2015.

(...) there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place. In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher – all that history met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America. And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.

They did as Scripture instructed: "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would well up and reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, and speak to the nation, echoing their call for America and the world to hear: "We shall overcome." What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God, but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place? What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: "We the People…in order to form a more perfect union." "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

These are not just words. They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work. And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.


If you want to read the whole speech, you can find it by following this link: Link to the speech on the Obama White House Archive's website

The background for Obama's speech

In the spring of 1965 a young man called Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by state troopers during a protest march in a small town called Marion, in Alabama. In response to the event, a march from Selma to the state capital Montgomery was planned. 600 people began to march from the town of Selma, but on the first day, the unarmed protesters were met with violence from state troopers, and the day is known as 'Bloody Sunday'. You can find out more by following this link to read an article about the marches on the History magazine's website: Link to article on History.com: 'Selma to Montgomery March'. A film has also been made about the event: Selma, from 2014.

The protesters did not back down, and two days later, on 9 March 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led more than 2,000 people, Black and white, on a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Once more the highway was blocked by state troopers. King paused the marchers and they prayed together. The troopers stepped aside and let the protesters through. The March from Selma to Montgomery was an important event that helped secure the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At the fifty-year anniversary in 2015, President Obama gave a speech on the Bridge in Selma where 'Bloody Sunday' took place.

Find imagery:

Work with a partner.

Study Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech I Have a Dream: Link to the speech on NPR's webpage

Find examples of imagery in the speech that were not mentioned or explained fully in the analysis. For each, identify what kind of imagery is being used, explain its meaning, and comment on what is achieved by using it in the speech.


  1. What issues does Martin Luther King Jr. address in I Have a Dream?

  2. Have these issues been resolved? Do African Americans today face any of these issues?

  3. Has Dr. King's dream become a reality? Are all US citizens equal today?


Bilde: AP, NTB

Further study:

Work with a partner.

English 2 offers a selection of speeches: Pick one of them, study it closely, and write plan for what you would include if you were going to write an analysis of the speech.

Read and research:

The task relates to the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution. You can find each of these texts by making an online search, or by following the links.

Link to the National Archives website: The Declaration of Independence

Link to the US Courts' website: Preamble to the Constitution

Read the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the US Constitution. Then answer the questions.

  1. Which revolutionary ideals of the Enlightenment period can you identify?

  2. Which ideals and promises did not include African Americans at the time they were written?

  3. Which other groups in society were not included?

What was the Age of Enlightenment?

Perhaps you already know a lot about the Age of Enlightenment from history class? The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated Europe in the 17th and 18th century.

Some important ideals of the period were that human happiness had value and that freedom was important. There was a focus on progress, science, philosophy, toleration, and fraternity.

You can find out more by making an internet search, or by following this link to Lumen Learning's resource about the Enlightenment period: Link to Lumen Learning's website: The Enlightenment Period Or you can visit this NDLA resource (note that this resource is in Norwegian): Link to NDLA resource: 'Opplysningstidens idégrunnlag og filosofer'

Offentlig eie

Bilde: Joseph Wright of Derby

Speed dating:

A good way to prepare for this task is to watch the film Selma (2014), but if you don't have time or access to the film, you can use the internet to find out more about the different people instead.


Choose one of the following people, and find out more about their life and their role in the Selma marches. (Make sure that everyone picks a different person.)

  • Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Annie Lee Cooper

  • Diane Nash

  • Jimmie Lee Jackson

  • Andrew Young

  • James Reeb

  • Hozea Williams

  • Viola Liuzzo

Find out:

  • How did the person you chose enter the Civil Rights Movement?

  • Why did they participate in the Selma Montgomery marches?

  • What was their role?

  • What happened to them after the marches?


You are going to pretend to be the person you have chosen.

Sit together in pairs and try to learn as much as possible about each other. Then change pairs and try to learn as much as possible about the next person.

If you want, you can set a timer and try to learn as much as possible within a given time frame, for example, two minutes.

Relatert innhold

A Rhetorical Analysis of I Have a Dream

An example of a rhetorical analysis.

Simplified Version: A Rhetorical Analysis of I Have a Dream

This i a simplified version of an example of a rhetorical analysis.

CC BY-SASkrevet av Helle Linné Eriksen

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