Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Mattingly, Carol, 1945-

Author's Keywords

Presidential; Inaugural speech; African-American; Leaders; Speeches; Kennedy administration; Johnson; Lyndon B. administration


Presidents--United States--Inaugural addresses--History--20th century; African Americans--History--Sources; Speeches, addresses, etc., American--20th century; African American orators


This dissertation explores how presidential inaugural speeches reflect the overarching mindset of the government, and how, in the postmodern era, this mindset manifests the same sort of African American erasure that has existed since Middle Passage. In addition, I explore the rhetorical engagement black leaders use to respond to, prevent, or to circumvent this erasure. This dissertation examines presidential inaugural speeches, during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, from the Kennedy administration to President Lyndon Baines Johnson, to prove that, most times, this type of speech is little more than epideictic formality in regards to black interests, and, perhaps, the initial step in an administration's disregard for the concerns of African Americans--or the first indication that an administration is ensnared in a dilemma of catering solely to white American interests. Correspondingly, I explore the theory that African American leaders' speeches attempt to respond to Presidential inaugural addresses. The dissertation is divided into five chapters. The first chapter covers Kennedy's inaugural speech and corresponding African American speeches that seem to respond to Kennedy's racially evasive issues and ideologies in his inaugural address. Chapter two covers Johnson's first inaugural address and corresponding African American responses to inherent race issues. Chapters three, four and five cover Johnson's second inaugural speech and corresponding African American speeches. In the conclusion, this dissertation explores the nature and function of the presidential inaugural address, based upon theorists' past assumptions about the address's function and nature, arguing that not only is the inaugural address normally more deliberative than epideictic, but, is most deliberative. In addition, the conclusion argues that current African American response to the presence or absence of race issues in presidential inaugural addresses has a broader platform than during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.