The Ferguson Syllabus was created by Dr. Marcia Chatelain as an ongoing response to historic events in Ferguson, Missouri, beginning with the death of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, an African-American teenager who was shot to death by a White police officer on August 9th, 2014. This crowdsourced collection of readings and activities helps to draw attention to history, current events, and community actions under the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.
The Ferguson Syllabus also provides a focus for racial justice and social justice. Frederick Douglass, a former enslaved person, in the years leading up to the US Civil War, wrote and published his Narrative of coming of age under slavery, defined by US law as chattel and property. Of his White mistress, Douglass stated:
Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. …Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.
Douglass’s description of the evils of slavery may offer an understanding of the impact of racism, prejudice, and bias against systemic oppression of human beings. When one of us suffers subjugation, all of us become diminished.
Little more than a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would reiterate these words in “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “Injustice anywhere is injustice anywhere.” Or, as Alicia Garza, who created #BlackLivesMatter with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, suggests, “When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”
The study of rhetoric offers a means to grapple with how and why persuasive writing connects to significant audiences, purposes, and occasions. In linking to materials and activities concerned with history and current events, the Ferguson Syllabus also helps to introduce students to the processes, rationales, and settings for academic writing.
Chatelain, Marcia. “How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson: A Crowdsourced Syllabus About Race, African American History, Civil Rights, and Policing. Atlantic. 25 August 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. 1845. Project Gutenberg E-Book. 4 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2015
Garza, Alicia. “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.” Black Lives Matter. 6 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Stanford University. 16 April 1963. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
@DrMChatelain #FergusonSyllabus. Teaching #Ferguson: Current events in the Classroom. 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2015
neeolofer. #FergusonSyllabus. Storify. 14 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2015
Sociologists for Justice. Ferguson Syllabus. Word Press. 30 Nov. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2015
UA Library Guides. Ferguson Resources. University of Arizona. 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 Feb. 2015
Writing Prompt for “Eulogy for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
“…I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling.” Is Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 speech, “Eulogy for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr” (text and video) still relevant for audiences in 2015? Why or why not? To respond to these questions, analyze the rhetorical situation of Kennedy’s speech. Refer to at least 2-3 terms from “Aristotle’s Rhetorical Situation” in this analysis. Also discuss texts such as King “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” (text and video), Selma, and “Eyes on the Prize 1967-8” as necessary.
Excerpts from Students' Responses
First Student: On April 4, 1968 the world lost an inspirational legend. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated which then lead to Robert F. Kennedy speaking on behalf of his passing. When speaking to the public crowd, Kennedy referred to the Ancient Greeks, which not only made his speech honest, but also credible. This credibility is a rhetorical strategy named ethos. Not only does he use this technique, but he uses pathos as well, to touch the heart and emotions of the audience. Kennedy used the rhetorical strategies in different ways, and accomplished his goal of persuading the audiences to not only forgive, but to remember that we are all one nation.
Second Student: All in all, what we need in this country is compassion. Our lack of compassion has brought us to a huge downfall of humanity. All we want as people is to be able to live together peacefully. As Kennedy mentioned “But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land” (Kennedy). The movement that we are taught in our textbooks in U.S. History did not end racism, as it is still alive today, suffocating the lives of those who still are not seen as equals in the United States till this very day.
Third Student: Whether it be Martin Luther King Jr. giving a powerful speech himself, or Robert F. Kennedy giving the equally powerful speech giving the news that one of the most passionate and effective civil right’s leaders has been assassinated, persuasive rhetoric was the key to uniting the nation in a time of distress and segregation among different races. These rhetorical devices show how a speech given years ago informing us Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed, can still have a major impact to the nation today. And this just goes to show how strong and united the people of this country have become, no matter the color of their skin.