Logan, Shirley Wilson. We Are Coming: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth-Century Black Women. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. (255 pages)
In the preface to Logan’s piece, she describes her goal to identify common rhetorical practices employed by black women orators in the 19th century: as she notes, these practices demonstrate a melding of conventions and traditions rooted in African diaspora, abolitionism, women’s rights movement, and religious traditions. For these orators, Logan writes: “identity and situation converge into one seamless exigence” (xiv). Because the politics of identity—and politics of their bodies—threads across and within these orator’s speech acts, Logan specifically seeks to observe the ways these women—often cast aside—create communal, consubstantial bonds with their audiences. In this light, Logan uses a definition of persuasive discourse that emphasizes the use of an orator’s verbal communication to develop an “adherence of minds”: creating a communal bond that also draws out the unique struggles of women of color. To do so, they often reflected the idea of the messenger is the message (22).
Logan uses many rhetoricians, but often discusses the work of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca. She organizes her analysis using their classification of allusions:
- Rhetorical figures of choice: “selective interpretations of meaning that point to one particular characteristic of a term to the exclusion of others”
- Rhetorical figures of presence: “brings the subject more clearly into mental focus for the auditors”
- Rhetorical figures of communion: of central importance for Logan, “brings increased audience identity through references to common past, tradition, or culture” (23-4).
Toward this last point, Logan emphasizes the orator’s goal of developing communalism: “doctrine that the group constitutes the main focus of the lives of the individual members of that group, and that the extent of the individuals involvement in the interests, aspirations, and welfare of the group is measure of that individual’s worth” (24). In emphasizing communalism, Logan notes that these orators also attempted to realize the goal of community action or political solidarity: the group acts together toward social justice. However, simultaneously, with community action, these orators also emphasize self-help alongside communal action: “God would help them only if they helped themselves” (35).
However, as noted, creating a communal bond with white (and even non-white) men posed a challenge. Many of the orators employed the rhetorical move of insinuation: “the speaker claims her inadequacy or lack of qualifications for the task and asks for audience’s indulgence…allows the speaker to acquire the auditor’s initial goodwill and support” (36). However, religion—specifically Christianity—was the bridge that allowed these orators to build community among their audiences.