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Use Quotes To Strengthen a Message: Robert Kennedy on MLK assassination

“We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past. We will have difficult times in the futures. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder. “

Robert Kennedy was told of the assassination in April 1968, of the nation’s preeminent black leader, Reverend Martin Luther King. The senator was scheduled to speak at a campaign gathering mostly consisted of the black audience that night, knowing the crowd would be furious. In this short, well-structured speech, He was a master of handling important quotes with his message and at the key transitional moment.

As one of the firsts to inform the public about Martin Luther King’s death, Senator started with “ I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world…” He immediately made a connection with the audience on the level of humanity, followed by his direct response to the black audience. “You can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge.”, Kennedy talked many black people’s mind with empathy. Instead of emphasizing that sense of hatred, he suggested the possible outcome of hatred- the country would become polarized with racial division. Robert Kennedy paraphrased what Martin Luther King said as a recommendation to the angry crowd- “to understand and to comprehend and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love”. The perfect timing for the use of a quote transformed the raging crowd into understanding and love at that moment.

After making a personal connection with audience by sharing the understanding of having experienced the death of loved one, similarly for those blacks who lost their national leader, Robert Kennedy made a key transition with the quote from Aeschylus, a Greek Tragedian, “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” He associated the audience with the grace of god. In the next paragraph, he included both the what the country need to do to move within difficult times- “love and wisdom and compassion toward one another” and what the individual could do- “say a prayer for the family and the country”.

Robert Kenedy ended with informing the audience the country will experience more difficult times but the most importantly was to keep the justice for all human beings on our side. He again quoted a Greek saying “to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle of the life of this world,” a narrative of solving the social issues and the difficultness at current moment by using our love and compassion. Senator did not explain the meaning of quotes in this speech. But the quotes made sense at many key points of his speech.

Published inSpeech Analysis

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