Martin Luther King Jr. was the most prominent, influential, and charismatic leader of Afro-American civil rights movement and a noble laureate. He is best known for his eloquence that found its expression in his rhetorical sermons and speeches. To say that the secret of his popularity was largely due to his innate ability to speak dauntlessly and powerfully would not be an overstatement. He stirred up black people to stand up and fight for their due share in the then racist American society through his public speeches. He appealed to the senses of every ordinary black man and woman of the time.
King himself observed, "In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.”(Lischer 2001) His most famous speech “I Have a Dream” is still touted as one of the best in the modern history. He always employed rhetorical strategies such as similes, metaphors, symbolism, personification and repetition to influence his addressees. He always used rhetorical language as a way to get Afro-Americans justice and equality.
In his letter that he wrote during his imprisonment in Birmingham jail, he used literary devices such as similes and metaphors to accentuate the need for justice. The paragraphs thirteen and fourteen describe the importance of annulment of segregation laws.
He demonstrated his rhetorical ability when he compared the political freedom Africa and Asia. King uses phrases such as "Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed" and "we still creep at horse-and-buggy like pace". He brought in symbolism while saying "the cup of endurance runs over", and "plunged into the abyss of despair".
Another rhetorical strategy of equal importance that he used was the rhetoric of nonviolence. In his speeches, he transcended the bias of race and religion to actually sow the seeds of social change.
Lischer, Richard. (2001). “The Preacher King”, p. 3