Teaching Activities (Free)

Hidden in Plain Sight: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Radical Vision

Teaching Activity. By Craig Gordon, Urban Dreams, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project. 2003, updated in 2017.
Lesson to introduce students to the speeches and work of Dr. King beyond “I have a dream.”

Time Periods: 20th Century, 1961
Themes: Civil Rights Movements, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements

Last year, I was trying to get my U.S. history class to focus on a passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

Unfortunately, I was not surprised when a student protested,

We already know about him. We’re tired of hearing about Martin Luther King.

So I asked,

Okay, what do you know about him?

“He had a dream,” another student replied as others laughed.

I insisted that there was infinitely more to King and his ideas than one very famous speech. “Well, that’s all they ever show us,” someone complained. “And that’s why I’m trying to show you something new about him,” I responded, showing, I hope, only a hint of my frustration.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Radical Vision (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Dr. Benjamin Spock and Bernard Lee at Chicago’s anti-war march in March of 1967. One year after his speech at Riverside Church in New York against the Vietnam War, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Photo: Pan African News Wire, © Jo Freeman.

This unit attempts to help students penetrate the curtain of clichés and lies the corporate media have erected around Martin Luther King Jr., in order to make him “safe” for public consumption. My objectives for students who participate in these lessons are that they will:

    1. Explicitly identify the ways in which Martin Luther King Jr. is portrayed in the mass media, and specifically, which of his ideas are communicated to the public.
    2. Read and discuss a range of King’s ideas almost completely unknown to most of the public today.
    3. Reflect upon why many of King’s ideas introduced in this lesson are almost never referenced in the mass media or in U.S. history textbooks.

Essential Questions

  • What were the major ideas of Martin Luther King Jr., and why aren’t they more publicly known?
  • How do the media depict King and his ideas and why?

The lesson includes a handout with excerpts from speeches and books by Dr. King that is useful for all to read. Access lesson here.

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