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Raizee Sotomayor
Professor Collins
ENGL 1302
29 February 2016
The LBJ Way
In 1965, African Americans were still fighting to secure their rights. With the Civil Rights
Act passed the year before, activists decided that the next step was to guarantee the right to vote.
Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson was swiftly sworn in
to lead a changing country. Johnsons desire to finish what Kennedy had started powered his
leadership in the civil rights movement and lead to his address at a joint session of congress on
March 15, 1965. Pathos, ethos and repetition in Lyndon Baines Johnsons We Shall Overcome
speech persuaded congress to pass voting rights legislation for people of every race.
Throughout his speech, Johnson is able to make the listener feel compassionate for those
suffering from racial prejudice through his use of emotional appeals. When he mentions his
experience as a teacher at a Mexican-American school, his description of how prejudice affected
his young students is so detailed and vivid, an emotional appeal is created. Johnson illustrates the
lack of privilege the students came from, how they came to class everyday on an empty stomach
and were so put down by the climate of poverty and hate they were living in that it could literally
be seen in their eyes and on their faces, (par 51). Johnsons choice of this particular story is well
thought out. Instead of focusing on adults who suffer from racism, he takes a closer look at how
it affects children, who are viewed as innocent and pure, to magnify the evil that stems from a
lack of ethnic diversity and cultural acceptance. By describing the hardships children face, the

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members of congress are reminded of the young ones they love and begin to feel compassion for
others.
Members of congress can rely on what Johnson is saying because he has witnessed
firsthand what the horror of hate can do to people and can trust that the position he has taken is
because of his own moral beliefs. Johnson mentions that he is from Texas and worked with
students from a different culture (par 51). He interacted with their diversity daily and struggled to
communicate with them because of the language barrier but explained how their body language
spoke louder than anything they could have told him. Johnsons use of this personal experience is
vital because members of congress cannot refute it as easily as if Johnson was citing something
he had only read about in the newspaper. He was there and had, in some way, suffered with them.
As Johnson tells the story, he puts it in a way to make congress feel what he felt. This can only
be done by sharing the truth, thus creating a sense of trustworthiness. In paragraph fifty one, he
states, I often walked home late in the afternoon after the classes were finished, wishing there
was more that I could do (Johnson). With that one statement and the revelation from his past (he
had embraced diversity by becoming a teacher for Spanish speaking children) his level of
credibility skyrockets. It seems as though Johnson has been bothered by prejudice for a long
time. This is not a president playing politics or persuaded by bribes, it is a man coming to terms
with what he believes and having the courage to share his heart. His honesty is what he hopes
will persuade congress.
Johnson uses repetition to emphasize the significance current events will have in U.S.
history and to convey his strong feelings towards being the nations leader who changes things
for the better. Johnson begins his address to congress by discussing the collision of history, fate,
and humanitys quest for independence, (par 2). In paragraph two, he states, So it was at

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Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma,
Alabama (Johnson). Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Appomattox Court House were
turning points in U.S. history that were succeeded by great changes in the country. Johnson is
letting congress know that the events in Selma stand at the same level. He is convinced that
Selma will mark a turning point for African Americans and others who desire acknowledgement
as equals and demand the right to vote. Johnson is sharing with congress his belief that they are
the ones who will initiate the change. In paragraphs fifty six through sixty, Johnson uses a
repetitive phrase, I want to be the President who to share the legacy he desires to leave
behind by enacting change through his presidency. Comparing the marches in Selma to
significant war related history shows the level of passion those demanding equal rights had.
Protestors firmly believed in their cause and would fight for it, but unlike servicemen who fight
on battlefields with guns and grenades, they had chosen a different weapon: their words. Johnson
uses his own words and his position to stand in unity with protestors. His diction illustrates that
his passion is equal to that of the protestors and the oppressed and confirms that their cause is
also his cause. By being open, vulnerable, and personal, he is persuading congress to join them in
their fight and pass legislation to protect voting rights.
Johnson understood what a great opportunity he had when he addressed congress in the
spring of 1965, and took great care and ownership of his words to help those in need. He
understood the rhetorical mechanics that can be used to persuade and used them to his full
advantage. The motivation to prove his worth as a leader after President Kennedys death helped
heal the wounds of a hurting country and fulfil Kennedys vision while cementing his own
legacy. Through his proper use of pathos, ethos, and repetition, Lyndon Baines Johnson
accomplished his goals.

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Works Cited
Johnson, Lyndon Baines. We Shall Overcome. American Rhetoric. American Rhetoric, n.d.
Web. 14 Feb. 2016.