Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Owen Peterson


This dissertation is a critical analysis of selected annual conference addresses of National Urban League (NUL) executive directors. It may be regarded as a "movement study" inasmuch as it traces the conceptualization of an idea, equality, from 1910 to 1985. Richard Weaver's philosophy, theory, and critical methodology of rhetoric provide the analytical framework by which this study was conducted. Specifically Weaver's hierarchy of arguments, which may be taken as a model of his philosophy and theory, served as this dissertation's research tool. The hierarchy includes argumentation from four perspectives, ranking from ideal to base: genus, similitude, cause-effect, circumstances. The dissertation analyzes the conference addresses of the following NUL directors: Eugene Kinckle Jones, Lester Blackwell Granger, Whitney M. Young, Vernon E. Jordan, and John E. Jacob. In designating Booker T. Washington as the ideological father of the National Urban League, the study also examines the philosophical and rhetorical foundations of this early leader. Most recurrent in these leaders' pattern of discourse, as the dissertation concludes, is the pairing of ideal argumentation (genus) with circumstantial argumentation. Such a rhetorical phenomenon almost seems to defy Weaver's theory that speakers typically argue from one characteristic argumentative perspective. Still, this study observes that what helped to keep the NUL mainstream persona secure was the strong commitment to an American ideal of equality that transcended fleeting circumstances. To the extent that this dissertation serves as a test case of Weaver's critical methodology, it notes some limitations of the argumentative hierarchy. Nevertheless, it presents these limitations as areas that ought to be refined, not as faulty methods of analysis. Furthermore, it commends the heuristic, epistemic, and philosophic contributions an application of Weaver's methodology can enable. As the dissertation concludes, Weaver's model has "excellent potential for telling us who we are and showing us what we can become.".