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Rhetorical Leadership and "I've Been to the Mountaintop"

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Chris Oldenburg

on 21 January 2014

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Transcript of Rhetorical Leadership and "I've Been to the Mountaintop"

Katori Hall's The Mountaintop and the Rhetorical Leadership of MLK in "I've Been to the Mountaintop Speech"
"If you want to lead the people you got to smoke like the people. That way the people'll listen to ya.''-- Camae 22.
What is Leadership?
Leadership is whereby a person frames reality in such a way as to "manage meaning" and motivate human agents in a particular situation.
“Rhetoric is the study of the ways in which character and community—motive, value, reason, social structure, everything, in short, that makes a culture—are defined and made real in performances in language. The object of rhetoric is justice : the constitution of a social world.”
— James Boyd White. When Words Lose Their Meaning: Constitutions and Reconstitutions of Language, Character, and Community. U of Chicago P, 1984. xi.
What is Rhetoric?
What is Rhetorical Leadership?
Simply, a conflation of both definitions: "the process of inventing, articulating, and sharing the available means of persuasion in order to motivate human agents in a particular situation."

Introduce Students to the concept of Rhetorical Leadership
Explore the Historical Context of the Sanitation Workers' Strike in Memphis
Show "At the River I stand"
What was Hall's Purpose in Writing this Play?
Conduct a close Textual Analysis of King's Mountaintop Speech.
Field Trip to the National Civil Rights Museum
A Civically Engaged Service Project TBD
Unit Objectives
Historical Context
Signature Assignment
Synthesis and Analysis Essay Exam: MLK’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Speech and Katori Hall’s Mountaintop
Students will write no more than two pages, double spaced for each of the following four questions (8 pages)worth 25 points each. Be sure to use textual evidence to support your claims.

1)What was King’s purpose/thesis, what did he want to accomplish in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Speech? Who was his audience? Do you believe he succeeded? What was Hall's purpose in writing The Mountaintop? Did she succeed? How?

2) Compare and Contrast the personas that King rhetorically constructs for himself in his last speech with the way Hall depicts King in her play. What is significant about these complementary and contradictory characterizations? Do you find both these depictions necessary in a leader? Why or Why not?

3)Keeping the concept of rhetorical leadership in mind, what strategies do you see both King and Camae employing to frame reality and manage the meaning(s) for each of their respective situations?

4) The themes of fear, love, and sacrifice are present in both King’s speech and Hall’s drama. Using textual evidence (specific passages), explain what these themes have to do with leadership.

5) Apply Cronin and Genovese's Leadership Paradoxes to both texts. What paradoxes emerge? Are they resolved?
Field Trip to National Civil Rights Museum
COMM 324 American Public Address
*Leadership is exerted through
—Gail T. Fairhurst & Robert A. Sarr. The Art of Framing: Managing the Language of Leadership. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996), xi. 3.
Historical Context
Leadership & Textual Interplay
Paradoxes/Opposing Images
CO 324 American Public Address
I typically spend a week (3 class meetings) on the
rhetorical legacy of MLK.
This unit will augment my lecture and discussion on MLK.
CO101 Fundamentals of Speech
Without question MLK's oratory
is a rhetorical exemplar. This speech can
be used as a paradigm to introduce
students to the many rhetorical and
leadership concepts.
Communication Courses and Unit Applicability
In what ways are these paradoxes necessary for effective leadership?
King's Mountaintop Speech &
the larger persona he adopted
as the leader of the CRM
parallels the Exodus story.
See Gary S. Selby's Book
"Martin Luther King and the Rhetoric of Freedom: The Exodus Narrative in America's Struggle for Civil Rights,"

Epic Leadership
Martin Luther King Jr's. "I've Been to the Mountaintop"
Cronin and Genovese's Leadership Matters: Unleashing the Power of Paradox
Katori Hall's Mountaintop
The Presidency and Rhetorical Leadership--ed. Leon Dorsey
"At the River I Stand"
Cronin and Genovese's Typology of Leadership Paradoxes
Why paradox? What is a paradox?

Moral vs. Manipulative
Self-Confidence vs. Humility
Representative Yet Not Too Representative
Visionary or Realistic
Cold Calculation vs. Spontaneity
Passion vs. Reason
Unifiers and Dividers
Concluding Thoughts/Take Aways
Leadership is inherently rhetorical
Leadership is paradoxical
Effective leadership finds its end in socially purposive action
Effective leadership balances the power of paradox
We can learn much from the rhetorical, epic, and paradoxical leadership of MLK.
Full transcript