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Barack Obama's a More Perfect Union

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There have been many great speeches made by many great men over the centuries. One of the most iconic is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. One lesser known but also of historical significance is then-Senator Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech. These speeches like these great men both have a wealth of similarities and differences including but not limited to their speech crafting devices, the influences of their unique African American heritages, and the thematic Christian content. These three things greatly lend to the central message of unity vital to both speeches.

One thing both speeches shared was a careful, deliberate, and effective use of repetition. Dr. King utilized the repetition of the phrase "Now is the time" to instill a sense of urgency in those present at the Lincoln Memorial as well as those watching it televised (King 508). It was a time of transition in our country, one where blacks were freed from slavery but not yet truly free, and blacks and their white allies were bolstered by the call to rise up together to overcome racial injustice and "make real the promises of Democracy" (508). When Sen. Obama gave his speech in 2008, he inspired the image and remembrance of Dr. King's speech, saying, "[T]o continue the long march of those who came before us," and going on to repeat the word "more" in reference to the work we still have to do which would fulfill Dr. King's vision of a unified and prosperous America (Obama 1).

Not only did they use repetition in the beginning of their speeches, but also toward the end. To provide a sense of hope and unity at the close of his speech, Dr. King emphasized that for America to be great, we must "let freedom ring" across our nation (King 510-11). Alternately, before closing his speech with a personal story, Sen. Obama repeated the phrase "this time" to pull people back from the distractions and conflicts political campaigns dredge up and turn their focus on the very real problems facing the vast majority of our country (Obama 8).

Despite both being considered African Americans, Dr. King and Sen. Obama had very different childhoods which gave them each a unique point of view in their individual speeches. Although both were raised in Christian households, their religious upbringings were very different. Dr. King was the fourth generation of Baptist preachers and raised in a household that was very dedicated to the faith. Despite being raised in a devoted Christian home, Dr. King experienced a crisis of faith, coinciding with a fierce and troubling depression (Wikipedia). In time, he was able to reconcile his doubts to the faith he was raised in, entering the seminary and following in his father's footsteps. He was also raised in a time where racial segregation was very much the norm and racism was openly and shamelessly expressed. When he urged his fellows to "[meet] physical force with soul force," he was encouraging them to be the example for which others could follow (King 509). With all he had experienced, he had come to the wisdom that to overcome evil, you must be unwaveringly good.

Sen. Obama, however, spent his formative years both in the United States, with a casual Christian influence, and in Indonesia, with a strong Muslim influence, providing him with a multicultural and diverse perspective. He did not suffer racism to the same extent Dr. King did, but just by being darker skinned in America, he became an heir to the same struggles and plights of African Americans. But more than that, he married a black American woman who "carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners" which brought that heritage directly into his family line and gave him yet another perspective (Obama 2). Unlike Dr. King, Sen. Obama also had to learn to reconcile the racism and stereotypes uttered by his white grandmother with the knowledge that she "loves me as much as she loves anything in this world" (4). He came to understand that "[t]hese people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love" (4). Despite their wildly different upbringings, both Dr. King and Sen. Obama were able to reach the same belief in and hope for unity.




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