Jesse Jackson Speech

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In 1988, the Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. The speech was delivered July 19, 1988 in Atlanta, Georgia. The speech discussed many issues associated with civil rights. In the speech, Jackson praised the Democratic National Convention for having individuals of all races and religions. Overall, the speech can be considered a success. In the aftermath of the delivery, “Jackson’s approval ratings skyrocketed after he gave it. When they (Americans) heard this speech, he immediately became one of the most approved-of politicians in America–if not the most approved of” (Rosenberg). Since the speech was so widely approved of by the American people and it resulted in a positive view of Jesse Jackson, it is fair to declare that the speech was a success. It was a success because of its topic as well as the literary devices used in it. These will be discussed in this paper.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is a leader in the American Civil Rights movement. He was born in South Carolina in 1941. He went to college on a football scholarship, eventually graduating in 1964. He then began to study for the ministry. He was heavily inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He deferred his studies to work for Dr. King full-time at this point in his life. His work in civil rights has led to numerous honors for him. He has received over forty honorary degrees from universities. In 2000, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. He is the founder of the Rainbow Coalition, a group that works to improve diversity in society. He has unsuccessfully run for the Democratic Presidential candidacy. He has successfully won the Senate position from the District of Columbia. His influence has been tremendous throughout the political environment (Rainbow Push Coalition).

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Peer-reviewed sources have discussed the speech. According to one study by Patricia Sullivan, the speech was a success before of how it used literary tropes. A literary trope refers to the use of figurative language within the work or speech. Sullivan points out that these devices include lies/tall tales and common sense stories. Jackson utilized these devices to relate to this audience. The use of common sense helps to bring the speaker down to the audience’s level. The speech was even entitled “Common Ground and Common Sense,” indicating that this was the significant method of the speech. This method was successful for Jackson in his 1984 speech (Sullivan 1). Another peer-reviewed source determined that the success of the speech was because of its musical delivery. The author argued that there was a distinct musicality to the speech. She believed that this delivery method stemmed from his abilities as a black minister. The use of musical delivery has long been associated with black ministers. Jackson merely took this form of deliver to a national level in 1988 (Wilson).

Non peer-reviewed sources also praised the speech. As discussed at the beginning of this paper, one source indicated that the speech resulted in a significant increase in the popularity of Jackson. The New York Times also praised the speech and its delivery by Jackson. The article declared the speech “a powerful blast of gospel populism, filled with the rhythms and repetitions that he has worked into an art” (Goodman).

The repetitions in the speech referred to several things. Firstly, the speech used alliteration. He said, “Providence has enabled our paths to intersect” (Jackson). His parallelism was because he referred to different groups of people and yet, pointed out that they all wanted the same thing in life. Different groups who have been discriminated against merely wanted this to end. His use of allusion was because he alluded to the Gospels, an important source of comfort in the speech. He refers to the Bible in many instances. It is a common source of literary allusion in the speech.

Hypophora refers to a speaker asking and then answering a question. Jackson asked “What makes New York so special?” and then answered the question. His answer was because it was the source of the original melting pot. A paradox was used when he discussed lions and lambs together. He pointed out the paradox. Lions and lambs should not lie down together, yet they do in the Bible. He then took this back to the motif of common ground. He pointed out that neither of these species could survive a nuclear holocaust. In this manner, Jackson indicated that all species on the planet share a common ground. Jackson also used personification to discuss environmental issues. He declared “Whether you’re a hawk or a dove, you’re just a bird, living in the same environment” (Jackson). It is apparent that he is referring to humans here, not merely animals. Epistrophe refers to the repetition of a word at the end of a sentence. In this manner, Jackson used the word “ground.” While he repeatedly referred to “common ground,” he also used it in other methods. “We are moved, fundamentally moved from racial battlegrounds by law, to economic common ground. Tomorrow we will challenge to move to higher ground” (Jackson). He also used anaphora when he used the same word at the beginning of sentences. In one paragraph, every sentence began with the word “dream.” He used hyperbole when he discussed a meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev. He said “Seven-eighths of the human race was locked out” (Jackson). This was an exaggeration.

Through a series of rhetorical devices and the use of a musical delivery, Jackson delivered a highly successful speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1988. Since then, the speech has been used as an example of an excellent speech. It obviously deserves this recognition, because the speech truly touched many Americans.

  • Goodman, Walter. “The Democrats in Atlanta.” The New York Times. 20 July 1988. 3 July 2014.
  • Jackson, Jesse. “Common Ground and Common Sense.” 19 July 1988. 3 July 2014. http://www.pbs.org
  • Rainbow Push Coalition. “Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.” n.d. 3 July 2014. http://rainbowpush.org
  • Rosenberg, Paul. “A Question of Balance. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 DNC Speech Illuminates False Left/Right Equivalences. 28 March 2009. 3 July 2014.
  • Sullivan, Patricia A. “Signification and African‐American rhetoric: A case study of Jesse Jackson’s “common ground and common sense” speech.” Communication Quarterly 41.1 (1993): 1-15.

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