Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

B. F. McClerren


Coretta King, known best as Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr., has been the new image of black womanhood for the black race since the days of the Montgomery bus boycott, which had its beginning on December 1, 1955. Mrs. King represents the new image of black womanhood because she is the first black woman projected into prominence by her husband. She is a follower in her husband's footsteps. She has taken up her husband's dream as her own and in the process has become a symbol in her own right.

Statement of Purpose. The purpose of this study was to analyze and evaluate a speech entitled "Commencement Address" given by Mrs. King on June 1, 1971 at City College in New York.

Criteria and Procedure. The criteria for rhetorical analysis of the speech "Commencement Address" was abstracted from Thomas R. Nilsen's "Interpretive Function of the Critic." Nilsen stated that the critic's function is to inquire into how the speaker is moving men and to what ends. He also said that the vital function of speech criticism is to state indirect implications of the speech in reference to man, ideas, and society. Therefore, three basic questions were raised by Nilsen:

  1. What is the speaker's concept of man?
  2. What is the speaker's concept of ideas?
  3. What is the speaker's concept of society?

Conclusions: The following concepts of man were discovered in Mrs. King's address.

  1. Man is an individual who has power and force in the world.
  2. Man is responsible for preventing destruction in the world.
  3. Man is capable of historical action and understanding.
  4. Man is an individual who does not, at all times, face reality.
  5. Man is capable of making rational and irrational choices.
  6. Man is responsible for being honest with his fellow man.
  7. Man should not dehumanize his fellow man.
  8. Man is capable of making both wise and unwise decisions.
  9. Man is a being with a capacity for wisdom and rational choice.
  10. Man is responsible for eliminating racism, poverty, and war.
  11. Man is a being of intrinsic worth.
  12. Man is obligated to grow in understanding of himself and the world around him.

The speaker's concept of ideas may be expressed this way:

  1. Youth will play a major role in determining in the future the success or failure of the democratic tradition.
  2. The creative thinking of individuals has been replaced by machines.
  3. New ideas and leadership will have to emerge in order to save our society from destruction.

The following were observed about the speaker's concept of society:

  1. American society has failed to stand up to its democratic philosophy.
  2. American society is thing-centered instead of person-centered.
  3. Society must be rational in meeting the demands of students.
  4. Society can only be saved from destruction when students, faculty, and the older generation cooperate with each other.
  5. Because American society has allowed racism, poverty, and war to exist, she has participated in unorthodox behavior.
  6. Because students in society have fought to hold high the banner of freedom, they have participated in orthodox behavior.