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Rhetorical Analysis: Compare and Contrast Four Speeches on Civil Rights

Common Core Standards


The following four speeches explore the tensions found within the American ideals of individual liberty and universal equality. Each speech argues a position in regards to how these ideals should relate to the application of civil rights within a nation that struggles to come to terms with its radical declaration that all people are created equal and endowed with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Studying the four speeches – three given in the 1960s in the midst of the civil rights movement and one contemporary speech – will allow students to explore how the speakers use rhetorical strategies to present their ideas on a topic that continues to be relevant today.

Lesson Goals and Overview:

Students will read Malcolm X’s “Racial Separation” and Lyndon B. Johnson’s “The Voting Rights Act” together, and George Wallace’s “Segregation Now, Segregation Forever” and Barack Obama’s “Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention” together in order to compare and contrast the way the speaker’s use different rhetorical strategies. Students will use both the College Board’s SOAPS technique and a T-chart graphic organizer to help them identify and compare these different strategies. They will then choose three speeches and write a compare and contrast essay exploring how the speakers use rhetorical strategies.

Students will need to be familiar with the rhetorical appeals (logos, ethos and pathos) and be able to differentiate between arguments of fact, policy and value.At the end of the unit, students will be able to write an essay analyzing how speakers use different rhetorical strategies to support their claims.This lesson includes handouts for the SOAPS worksheet and T-chart, and a sheet defining different rhetorical strategies.


Before assigning homework, have students respond to the following journal question: Is it more important for the American government to ensure that individuals have the liberty to do what they want, or ensure