This study guide will help you analyze Barack Obama’s Selma Speech. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on summary, analysis, topic, speaker, audience, language, modes of persuasion, circumstances, and intention.
Presentation of the speech
Title: “Barack Obama’s Selma Speech”
Speaker: Barack Obama
Where: Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama
When: 7th of March, 2015
Barack Obama (b. 1961) served as the 44th President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. He was the first African American to serve in this office.
Barack Obama’s Selma speech marked the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, three protest marches organized in 1965 by non-violent civil rights activists as a reaction to African-American citizens not being allowed to register to vote.
You can watch the speech here.
Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide:
At the beginning of the speech, Obama describes the day of the Selma march. This helps the audience identify with the anticipation, fear, and hope that the marchers must have felt.
The speaker describes the horrific violence endured by those who marched to stir the audience’s compassion and to inspire courage:
Ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.
Throughout the speech, Obama appeals to trust and authority to mark the importance of the Selma march and to give weight to his appeal for a more unified society.
For example, at the beginning of his speech, he calls Congressman John Lewis, one of the leaders of the Selma march who was also present in Obama's audience, “a personal hero.” By appealing to John’s Lewis status as a hero, Obama establishes himself as a supporter of the fight for freedom and equality.