James Baldwin’s Twentieth Century America: Linguistic Analysis of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Barack Obama and James Baldwin


The rhetoric of today’s black resistance is rooted in the work of James Baldwin, a mid-twentieth century writer, orator, and poet. Baldwin was influenced by both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and he adopted the moderate realistic discourse in verbal speech that both men had contributed to prior to their assassinations. The significance of Baldwin as a guide for powerful twenty-first century black orators like Barack Obama is clear in the resurfacing of Baldwin’s works, specifically through the 2017 film I Am Not Your Negro. To support the claim of Baldwin’s linguistic dominance today, rooted in the stylistics of great orators of the past, the clustering of a corpus of speeches though “linguistic fingerprints” by James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama can demonstrate that the rhetoric between all men is similar when speaking in a realistic ideology whether in 1955 or 2016. Black resistance rhetoric of today is rooted in United States Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. 


In 1987, the world lost James Baldwin at the age of sixty-three. Baldwin focused his prose upon the racial injustice towards blacks at the peak of the civil rights movement in the United States. He wrote of the “sins of the West” (Pinckney) exposing harshly the subjugation of and hatred towards black people, as he escaped abroad to work at his typewriter without fear of a gun being pointed at his back. His writings, speeches, interviews, and debates continue to influence the rhetoric of an undeniable fallacy of post-racial America. Baldwin was ahead of his time, and his poetic words, categorized as graceless at the time, have laid the foundation for the current rhetoric fighting racial injustice in America. Baldwin accomplished his goal of furthering the discourse regarding race while discussing his personal experience as both a black man and homosexual in this midst of segregated and homophobic America. His words remain relevant today.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, frequent exposure in the media of police brutality towards minorities, and the Black Lives Matter movement, privileged white America has only just begun to wake up again to racial injustice continued from the times of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. The concept of a post-racial America is now being deemed false and awareness of minority subjugation is building at the same moment that “fake news” is complicating the public’s understanding of reality. The Obamas left the white house at the beginning of 2017, and authors such as Ta-Nehisi Coates have become much more widely read, exposing an audience of white readers to a black American male’s perspective. The film I Am Not Your Negroby Raoul Peck premiered in the United States in February 2017 reiterating the rhetoric of James Baldwin to the viewers of independent cinema.

James Baldwin reentered pop culture in 2017. Thirty years after his death, a new audience, a younger generation of civil rights fighters are being exposed to his words. I Am Not Your Negro is focused on the lyrical legacy of Baldwin above all else. Peck focuses the film upon the voice of Baldwin, with sections to correspond with his long essay The Fire Next Time, from “Letter from a Region of My Mind,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1962. The sections include, “Paying My Dues,” “Heros,” “Witness,” “Purity,” and “Selling the Negro.” Although each section offers different themes, “each section is composed of the same elements, old and new clips of police confrontations, shots of city streets at night or river banks or views of skies as seen up through the trees of different places where the restless Baldwin traveled” (Pinckney). As the scenes change from contrasting streetviews to bolded text, blues and the original music written for the film by Alexei Aigui play.

In the film, I Am Not Your Negro,James Baldwin is heard through Samuel L. Jackson’s narration. The film shares direct quotations from various works by Baldwin but focuses in upon the book Remember This House because it includes an examination of “three black martyrs of the freedom struggle: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King” during the years 1955 until the death of King in 1968 (Pinckney). Although the lives of Baldwin, King, Evers, and Malcolm are decades in the past, their impact is remembered and made relevant again as they are juxtaposed against footage from Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri and various other demonstrations for racial equality. The present is contrasted and continued as footage from the fall of 1956 shows fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts on her way to school in Charlotte, North Carolina as she is spat at by a mob following closely behind. There is footage of Martin Luther King, Jr., with a police baton pressing him into the ground in what appears to be Selma before redirecting the scene to show the batons swinging at the back of an unknown black man in Watts. As the footage fades, the screen is filled with mugshots of young black men, presumably the Scottsboro Boys from1931. The following images are of today: black men and women being assaulted or detained by police. The names and faces of recent child victims of police killings fill the screen next. 

Darryl Pinckney in his analysis of I Am Not Your Negro in The New York Review of Books identifies the comparisons between black men and women of the 1950s and today. Pinckney goes further to compare the violent white presence of the past with the present. In his analysis of the film, “Under the Spell of James Baldwin,” Pinckney identifies the “howling young white males,” with swastikas on their signs, clothes, and skin as they tackle demonstrators. He points out of the angry faced citizens of Little Rock following behind the black students on their first day of class and the attack by white men of lunch counter sit-in protesters. Pinckney reiterates Baldwin’s same sentiment, “The hatred of black people is out there,” adopted directly from Baldwin’s awareness of the danger of American innocence (Pinckney). I Am Not Your Negro is a presentation of Baldwin’s resistance to black hatred by analyzing the words of four influential black men. Today, the linguistic legacy of “black anger” is carried on. The film begins to demonstrate the similarities and differences of four specific leaders of the civil rights movements. Linguistically, Baldwin stands apart from Malcolm and King during their more radical moments of nonviolent and violent action, and rejoins the men as they find more moderate rhetoric towards the end of their lives. It is this same moderate rhetoric of Baldwin resurfaces in the present within the linguistic fingerprint of Barack Obama. 

Although the film focuses upon the relationship of Baldwin with Evers, King, and Malcolm X, the telling is injured by the fact that Baldwin did not really know these three men. “He met them, interviewed them, supported them, appeared with them, and loved them… he identified with them, especially after their deaths” (Pinckney). Evers, a NAACP officer, was included in I Am Not Your Negro because he was recognized as a martyr by Baldwin after he was killed in 1963 while investigating a murder of a black man in his county. Within this research study, the linguistic fingerprint of Evers is not included because his significance in the film was due to Baldwin writing of him in an essay No Name in the Street, while attempting to cope with his death and the assassinations of Malcom X in 1965 and King in 1968. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers are black martyrs of the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s; however, King and Malcolm are most remembered for their words as opposed to Evers for his actions.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

James Baldwin most closely identified with King and Malcolm, because of their roles as great orators, writers, and poets of the United States Civil Rights Movement. The rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X are often compared in scholarly work and in public discourse, and they are viewed as the two main figures when discussing nonviolence and violence approaches to fighting racial inequality in the twentieth century. In James H. Cone’s essay Martin and Malcolm on Nonviolence and Violence, he states that “no two persons symbolize this debate more than Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.” The two men were considered radicals on the spectrum of violence to fight racism, often exaggerated by their opposite viewpoints. Malcolm has been called both the “messiah of hate” and a “black Ku Klux Klan of racial extremists” whereas King is portrayed as a “twentieth century religious Uncle Tom pacifist” (Cone). Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X had different strategies regarding the place of violence within the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century United States of America. On a thematic level, King is recognized for his traditional Christian discourse calling for peace and never justifying violence. Whereas, Malcolm is remembered as a Black Muslim who created and shared his own discourse justifying violent action which is often misinterpreted. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was Time’s “Man of the Year” in 1963, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, has a national holiday in his name, and is remembered as one of America’s most distinguished theologians (Cone). King lived his life until death embracing a philosophy of nonviolence. Cone includes in his essay a short biography of King’s transition to fully embrace this nonviolent lifestyle. To summarize Cone, King was raised in the black Baptist tradition of Christianity. His father was a Reverend and strongly shaped his son’s world view through the idea that love comes through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. As Martin Luther King, Jr., grew older, he was greatly influenced by religion and positive experiences interacting with white people at Seminary and Boston University School of Theology. His acceptance by and of his white peers allowed him to overcome the discrimination of his past and through this, his personal attraction towards nonviolence grew. He read Thoreau’s “Essay on Civil Disobedience,” as part of his doctoral work and truly developed the belief that society should be fully integrated, regardless of race. A year before he completed his doctorate, King was offered a position as a Reverend at a Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. His role in as the leader of the middle-class church led to King being asked to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott following Rosa Parks’ arrest. As the head of the boycott, King’s home was bombed, he was harassed by the police, received hate mail and telephone threats. King originally responded by applying for a gun permit. Although the permit was denied, King kept a loaded gun at his home and other black advocates of the boycott took turns defending King’s home. In a moment of distress after receiving a threat on the telephone, King began searching for a “way to cope with the problem of evil and suffering” caused by the hatred towards black people in Montgomery (Cone). Days later, King’s home was bombed and he remained calm pursuing the righteousness of the lord. He then came to the revelation that only nonviolence could meet and overcome the violence he and his family were experiencing. He projected this idea through the concept of Jesus’ love and his background in “Liberal Protestant theology and the philosophy of Personalism, both of which emphasized the oneness and infinite value of humanity” (Cone). King promoted his new philosophy by creating the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to promote justice through love.

 Cone continues his analysis by contrasting the biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., to Malcolm X. Malcolm was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925, to a father who was a Baptist preacher and a special target of white hate groups. As a young child of only four years, Malcolm witnessed his home being burnt down by the KKK. Two years later, Malcolm lost his father, presumably to the violence of the KKK. After moving to Lansing, Michigan with his mother, Malcolm and his sibling were placed in the foster care system after his mother suffered a mental breakdown. Malcolm faced constant discouragement through elementary school despite being at “the top of his class” (Cone). Shortly after, Malcolm dropped out of school and moved to Boston and then New York as a young man. He quickly became involved in drugs, prostitution, and other crimes leading him to a prison sentence of eight to ten years in 1946 (Cone). Once in prison, Malcolm embarked on the “intellectual and spiritual” journey beginning with his membership of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam leading into his Black Nationalist philosophy rooted in “black self-respect and self-defense” (Cone). While in prison, Malcolm’s philosophy grew to accept self-defense, not violence, as justified when it was responding to other criminal acts, even prior to a crime being committed. He justification for preparatory acts of violence stemmed out of the police’s failure to protect the black community. Once released from prison, Malcolm X rose as an influential Muslim minister and Black Nationalist leader while directing his attacks toward white liberals for their hypocrisy. His career was short, yet highly influential in the rhetoric of Black Anger. 

Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated at thirty-nine because their spirits were too powerful and transcended the racial lines painted by society in the 1960s in the United States (Cone). These two men have become the two most powerful African Americans of the twentieth century and rarely are portrayed “beyond caricatures and sound bites (Carson). Clayborne Carson explains the more moderate aspects of both men in his article, The Unfinished Dialogue of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Malcolm and King were both raised in similar environments for their first years. Beginning their lives raised by Baptist preacher fathers, the two stories quickly diverge as King’s life remained stable in the household of NAACP parents and Malcolm’s life unraveled as he became a ward of the state at an early age. During their formative years, Malcolm had “far less exposure than did King to the positive aspects of black culture and history” (Carson). The lack of stable black male role models in the life of Malcolm in addition to growing up in a country divided by racism help explain the circumstances that lead Malcolm to prison and King to Seminary. Opportunity separated the two men in their youth, but through literature and writing, they both eventually found their own, diverging voices. As both young men grew into their careers, they became more pronounced on the extreme sides of their differing views, one based in the Muslim and one in the Christian religions. In 1963, the two men were forced to come towards the middle of the spectrum regarding what seemed polarized stances on violence and nonviolence in response to the Birmingham campaign that was “beyond the control of any single leader” (Carson). It was not until months later that uniting the black populace for the March on Washington in August of 1963 was fueled by the frustration and anger following the deaths of four black girls in the Birmingham church bombing. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., was philosophically opposed to Malcolm X, and Malcolm was his biggest critic. King was undeniably the most popular, yet the support of Malcolm by “young, politically-active black people” forced King to acknowledge Malcolm (Carson). Because of Malcolm’s growing popularity and a growing resentment from Elijah Muhammad, he was suspended in 1963 from the Nation of Islam; this encouraged Malcolm to follow closely to the course of King: “a combination of religious leadership and political action” (Carson). King recounts one interaction between his wife, Coretta Scott King, and Malcolm X in 1964 where Malcolm “expressed an interest in working more closely with the nonviolent movement.” The promise of a more moderate Malcolm X, ended only one year later with his assassination. It was the belief of James Baldwin that Malcolm did pull his beliefs more towards the center of the spectrum towards those of Kings at the end of his life. Baldwin believed that the same was true of King: both men becoming less polarized. “The two men understood at the end of their lives that their basic messages were compatible rather than contradictory” (Carson). Had Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., lived longer, it is possible that they would have begun to work cohesively. However, the impact of Malcolm’s death upon King was a factor that affected his polarization, similarly to how to assassinations of both men drastically affected Baldwin calling him back from abroad to the battlefield of the civil rights movement.  


The legacy of James Baldwin continues, as he is still today the subject of studies, conferences, and an academic journal, the James Baldwin Review. He is remembered and celebrated“as the creator of a contemporary American speech that we needed to talk to one another” regarding race (Pinckney). It is Baldwin that we continue to read and study. Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., are remembered for their moving speeches and abilities as great orators, yet it is still the words of Baldwin that resonate loudest. They are carved into the sides of buildings and his rhetoric is mimicked by the movements of today. It is because of Baldwin’s presence in today’s racial landscape that a linguistic analysis is relevant. By comparing the rhetoric of Baldwin, Malcolm, and King it is possible to see how they influenced each other and discourse overtime. 

The linguistic analysis of Baldwin will demonstrate similarities and differences in the stylistic approaches utilized when discussing race. It is simple linguistic tendencies that could have been developed based upon geographic location and role models during upbringing that will cluster the “linguistic fingerprints” together instead of the big thematic words utilized from different speeches. A meta level linguistic analysis will offer evidence to prove or disprove statements such as, “Baldwin was probably closer in temperament to Malcolm X, another son of the Harlem streets and renegade from his church, than he was to King” (Pinckney) and “When we turn to Malcolm X, we hear a different voice from that of Martin King, one that whites and some blacks found most disturbing to their religious and political sensibilities” (Cone). 

To truly bring the linguistic analysis into the twenty-first century it is also important to include a black male orator of the present. Baldwin, King, and Malcolm are at the frontline of influential black males of the twentieth century; Barack Obama is undoubtedly at the frontline of the twenty-first as the most successful black politician in the history of the United States of America. Obama is “fully versed in the works of Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X” (Coates). It is the opinion of scholars on black rhetoric that Obama was shaped by these other great orators, and if that is true, they will exhibit similar “linguistic fingerprints” when clustered in the programming language of R. Obama has been linked to Baldwin for his speech charged with anger. “Baldwin’s political thought demonstrated prophetic force and historical acumen, ways of thinking about how the past pulled on people’s lives to inspire fear and how that fear compelled civic and moral cowardice…. Obama should be judged a rightful inheritor of Baldwin’s civic anger” (Kurtz). Obama has utilized this specific anger rhetoric to embolden him when responding to heinous crimes committed against black people, specifically police shootings of black youth; he deploys civic bravery. 

When comparing the rhetoric of King, Malcolm, Baldwin and Obama, descriptors such as anger and violence are utilized. Even in the film, I Am Not Your Negro, there are“moments of anger,” however, “it isn’t an inherently angry film” (Zacharek). Baldwin is an orator echoing into the present day, not solely because of his anger, but because the eloquence of his rhetoric is both timeless and necessary. Pinckney believes that “Peck’s film, based on one of Baldwin’s unrealized works, is a kind of tone poem to a freedom movement not yet finished.” He compares the black youth of today’s Black Lives Matter movement with youth of the past. Today’s movement, like yesterday’s, “represents a generation in agreement with Baldwin,” and the result is justified anger in the rhetoric of the Black Lives Movement and former president Barack Obama when responding to racial injustice. By analyzing the similarities and differences between the four orators, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, and James Baldwin, it is possible to demonstrate how Baldwin’s relevance extends into and influences the present-day rhetoric of race conversations in the United States. 


This project includes two main corpuses all examined by using unsupervised clustering in the programming language of R. The two corpuses were processed separately before being broken down into a word frequency table. The collect of the different speech frequency tables provides insight into the high frequency word features of each speaker. The highest frequency words being: a, about, all, America, American, an, and, any, are, as, at, be, because, been, being, black, but, by, can, children, come, country, day, did, do, don(‘t), even, every, for, from, go, god, great, had, has, have, he, here, him, his, history, how, I, if, in, into, is, it, its, just, know, let, life, like, long, make, man, many, me, men, more, most, must, my, nation, never, new, no, not, now, of, on, one, only, or, other, our, out, own, people, say, see, so, some, than, that, the, their, them, then, there, these, they, think, this, those, time to (derived from the smallest word cluster). The frequencies of these features can be utilized to identify the “linguistic fingerprint” of each speaker. Like a fingerprint, the linguistic analysis identifies micro level differences between orators to cluster data sets based upon similarities and differences. 

Each speech within the corpus is compared to the others. To compare the differences, Euclidean distance is calculated between each speech. This creates a distance between speeches based upon the similarity or difference between each speakers’ use of high frequency words or their “linguistic fingerprint.” The results are clustered and plotted in a Cluster Dendrogram to reveal speakers who are similar and outliers. There are 22 speeches in the corpus: eight speeches from James Baldwin, five speeches from Malcolm X, five speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr., and four speeches from Barack Obama. 

Medgar Evers was not included in the corpus because he was included in the film I Am Not Your Negro because Baldwin had acknowledged him as a black martyr like King and Malcolm and not for his linguistic presence on black society. Because the linguistic fingerprint analysis requires a large corpus of work, it was not possible to adequately evaluate the similarities between Evers and the other men. Additionally, there are scholarly sources comparing Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin, and James Baldwin and Barack Obama. Evers is not analyzed to the same extent in scholarly work so he was removed from the linguistic study. 

Based on past study of linguistic fingerprints conducted by Matthew Jockers, there have been differences noted between male and female writers. To bring in examples with the highest possible similarities, and the lowest risk of skewing the data, all speakers included are males. 


  • James Baldwin, An Open Letter to My Sister, 1970
  • James Baldwin, A Report from Occupied Territory, 1966
  • James Baldwin, A Talk to a Teacher, 1963
  • James Baldwin, Cambridge Debate, 1965
  • James Baldwin, Fifth Avenue Uptown, 1960
  • James Baldwin, Interview, 1964
  • James Baldwin, Many Thousands Gone, 1955
  • James Baldwin, Unknown Speech, 1963
  • Malcolm X, After the Bombing at Ford Auditorium, 1965
  • Malcolm X, Black Man’s History, 1962
  • Malcolm X, God’s Judgement of White America, 1963
  • Malcolm X, The Ballot or the Bullet, 1964
  • Malcolm X, The Black Revolution, 1963
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, 1967
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, 1967
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, 1968
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., MIA Mass Meeting at Hold Street Baptist Church, 1955
  • Barack Obama, Speech in response to Dallas Police Shooting, 2016
  • Barack Obama, Interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2016
  • Barack Obama, Interview with NPR, 2008
  • Barack Obama, Speech at Selma Anniversary, 2015

The speeches used in the corpus were gathered from a wide variety of years, yet all are focused closely upon race. Because all four men are relatively young in the context of history, their works have not yet entered the public domain. The speeches collected were the longest and most racially charged available to provide the most accurate and fair comparison between speakers. 


corpus_dir <- “/Users/emmahimes/Desktop/Spring17/mSpeech”
files_v <- dir(path = corpus_dir, pattern = “.*txt”)
make_file_word_v_l <- function(files_v, output_dir){
 text_word_vector_l <- list()
  for(i in 1:length(files_v)){
   text_v <- scan(paste(corpus_dir, files_v[i], sep = “/”),
                   what = “character”, sep = “\n”)
   text_v <- paste(text_v, collapse = ” “)
   text_lower_v <- tolower(text_v)
   text_words_v <- strsplit(text_lower_v, “\\W”)
   text_words_v <- unlist(text_words_v)
   text_words_v <- text_words_v[which(text_words_v!=””)]
   book_freqs_t <- table(text_words_v)
   book_freqs_rel_t <- 100*(book_freqs_t/sum(book_freqs_t))
   text_word_vector_l[[files_v[i]]] <- book_freqs_rel_t
my_corpus_l <- make_file_word_v_l(files_v, corpus_dir)
freqs_l <- mapply(data.frame,
                  my_corpus_l, SIMPLIFY = FALSE,
                  MoreArgs = list(stringsAsFactors = FALSE))
freqs_df <- do.call(rbind, freqs_l)
result <- xtabs(Freq ~ ID+text_words_v, data = freqs_df)
final_m <- apply(result, 2, as.numeric)
d_final_m <- dist(final_m)
cluster_final <- hclust(d_final_m)
cluster_final$labels <- names(my_corpus_l)
plot(cluster_final, main = “Total Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”, sub = “Speeches by Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”)
smaller_m <- final_m[,apply(final_m, 2, mean) >=.01]
d_smaller_m <- dist(smaller_m)
cluster_smaller <- hclust(d_smaller_m)
cluster_smaller$labels <- names(my_corpus_l)
plot(cluster_smaller, main = “Small Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”, sub = “Speeches by Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”)
smallest_m <- final_m[,apply(final_m, 2, mean) >=.1]
d_smallest_m <- dist(smallest_m)
cluster_smallest <- hclust(d_smallest_m)
cluster_smallest$labels <- names(my_corpus_l)
plot(cluster_smallest, main = “Smallest Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”, sub = “Speeches by Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”)
final_m <- apply(result, 2, as.numeric)
d_final_m <- dist(final_m)
cluster_final <- hclust(d_final_m)
cluster_final$labels <- names(my_corpus_l)
plot(cluster_final, main = “Total Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”, sub = “Speeches by Baldwin, King, Obama, Malcolm X”)
smaller_m <- final_m[,apply(final_m, 2, mean) >=.01]
d_smaller_m <- dist(smaller_m)
cluster_smaller <- hclust(d_smaller_m)
cluster_smaller$labels <- names(my_corpus_l)
plot(cluster_smaller, main = “Small Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”, sub = “Speeches by Baldwin, King, Obama, Malcolm X”)
smallest_m <- final_m[,apply(final_m, 2, mean) >=.1]
d_smallest_m <- dist(smallest_m)
cluster_smallest <- hclust(d_smallest_m)
cluster_smallest$labels <- names(my_corpus_l)
plot(cluster_smallest, main = “Smallest Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X”, sub = “Speeches by Baldwin, King, Obama,Malcolm X”)


Total Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X

Explanation and Analysis: This is the largest data set including speeches by Baldwin, King and Malcolm. Two main clusters have formed. It is not clear that date was a major influence and the split is not extremely clear. 

Small Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X

Explanation and Analysis: This is a slightly more narrowed data set. The cluster does not differ from the previous data set. 

Smallest Cluster Dendrogram: Baldwin, King, Malcolm X

Explanation and Analysis: This is the smallest data set, which should show any of the smallest differences. The results have not changed. 

Total Cluster Dendrogram: Obama, Baldwin, King, Malcolm X

Explanation and Analysis: This is the largest data set including speeches by Baldwin, King and Malcolm, and Obama. Two main clusters have formed again, and clearly placed Obama on the right-hand side. It is not clear that date was a major influence and the split is not extremely clear.

Small Cluster Dendrogram: Obama, Baldwin, King, Malcolm X

Explanation and Analysis: This is a slightly more narrowed data set. The cluster does not differ from the previous data set. 

Smallest Cluster Dendrogram: Obama, Baldwin, King, Malcolm X

Explanation and Analysis: This is the smallest data set, which should show any of the smallest differences. The results have not changed.


The results of the Cluster Dendrogram demonstrate two main groups based upon linguistic fingerprint. The clusters are not separated clearly by date or speaker, but instead by ideology. One cluster is characterized by speeches that apply an ideology of realism and the other an ideology of idealism. The speeches distributed evenly which demonstrates that there were no major outliers in the data set and there was little skewing of the data due to varying topics or linguistic heritage of speakers. All four black men demonstrate strong similarities to the others allowing for concise and accurate results in the cluster. 


The split in the linguistic fingerprints demonstrates that all four orators, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Barack Obama have two sides: idealistic and realistic. When Baldwin writes, he clusters towards the idealistic. When Baldwin speaks, he follows the realistic. The two groups show the diversity necessary as a leader of a major movement to be malleable to different situations. Obama only fits into the realistic category which includes the speeches from later in life of Martin Luther King, Jr., including both his final speech prior to his assassination and a speech in response to a shooting. The sway of Obama towards the realistic cluster is rooted in the high necessity that he respond to police shootings and violence committed against blacks in the United States throughout his term. Additionally, from his podium as president, it seems that the idealist rhetoric of his campaign was traded for a more literal rhetoric.

When analyzing the “linguistic fingerprints” of Malcolm and King, the two men clustered in the realistic category in their final years before being assassinated. A speech in the last year of Malcolm X’s life also remains in the realistic category along with King’s “I’ve Been To The Mountain Top.” This demonstrates and confirms the similarities in “linguistic fingerprints” between all four orators to produce realistic content like that of MLK and Malcolm X at the end of their lives. Their rhetoric resonates in Baldwin when he is delivering oral speeches or interviews, and Obama in all his addresses. The theory that King and Malcolm became less polarized and both came to a more moderate place in the middle is also complimented by the data set. Baldwin was influenced significantly by both King and Malcolm following their assassinations and that is clear in his rhetoric. Finally, the addition of Obama to the realistic group demonstrates how the rhetoric of the 1960s through Baldwin, King, and Malcolm has remained relevant in the discourse fighting racism in the United States in the present. When clustering “linguistic fingerprints” over an extended timeline, such as the 60-year gap in the corpus, it would be reasonable that the dates alone caused a skew in the results. That is not the case in this corpus. The rhetoric of the 1960s Civil Rights Movements is mirrored in the Black Lives Matter Movement of the present day. The black resistance rhetoric that King and Malcolm both adopted prior to their assassinations flows through the rhetoric of James Baldwin and Barack Obama. It is unfortunate that the rhetoric has changed so little because it signifies that the racial injustices have changed little as well; regardless, black resistance continues as the eloquent speakers of yesterday reverberate into the present.  

Works Cited

Carson, Carlborn. “The Unfinished Dialogue of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Malcolm C.” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 19, no. 1, Jan. 2005, pp. 22-26. EBSCOhost. 

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “Fear of a Black President.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2017. 

Cone, James H. “Martin and Malcolm on Nonviolence and Violence.” Phylon, vol. 49, no. ¾, Fall/Winter 2001, p. 173. EBSCOhost. 

Kurtz, Jeffrey B. “To Have Your Experience Denied . . . It Hurts”: Barack Obama, James Baldwin, and the Politics of Black Anger.” Howard Journal of Communications, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan-Mar 2017, pp. 93-106. EBSCOhost. 

Pinckney, Darryl. “Under the Spell of James Baldwin.” The New York Review of Books. The New York Review of Books, 23 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Apr. 2017. 

Zacharek, Stephanie. “I Am Not Your Negro Review: Observing Trumpism Before Trump.” Time. Time, 2 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

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