Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Sandra Sarkela

Committee Member

Antonio de Velasco

Committee Member

D. Gray Matthews

Committee Member

Janann Sherman


In late August of 1964, two-days prior to the opening ceremonies of the Democratic National Convention, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) members were poised to challenge the seating of the regular, all-white Mississippi Democratic Party delegation in dramatic fashion on national television. While both sides believed that they would win the challenge, neither side could have foreseen the complicated twists and turns this debate would take. Thus, the purpose of this dissertation is to analyze the arguments of the Mississippi delegation debate at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in order to more fully understand the rhetorical situation.Using Lloyd Bitzer's definition, this dissertation analyzed the arguments of the Mississippi delegation debate first by situating those arguments within the rhetorical context, then by assessing the debate discourse through a close reading of the text. Additionally, this study employed oral history techniques to thicken the historical descriptions of the rhetorical situation and to enhance the meaning inferred from a close reading of the arguments.What emerged from this historical moment was an interesting rhetorical situation. From the perspective of the MFDP, there was a rhetorical exigency that needed to be addressed through the discourse of the delegation debate. While their arguments were persuasive in changing the attitudes of the credential committee members, their discourse was ultimately rendered ineffectual because of the institutional constraints they faced. Although members of the MFDP may have struggled to understand this point at the national convention, the regulars understood it well. As a result, the regulars focused their testimony on the realities of the current power relationships within the National Democratic Party. In the end, they were effective because they were able to remind their audience what was at stake. Therefore, this dissertation argued that key terms were used in this debate not only to promote democratic values, but also to guide the decision of the credentials committee by re-appropriating our understanding of representation from a moral, political perspective (held by the MFDP) to a legal, technical perspective (held by the regulars).


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.