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

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

  • Time Periods: People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974, 20th Century | Themes: Civil Rights Movements, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs

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.

Available from the OUSD Urban Dreams website

Download lesson and handouts.

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.

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?
Brief Summary

Day One

  • Discussion of the ways the early civil rights movement influenced and inspired others and of what would happen if nobody knew about these events or about Martin Luther King and could it be that we really don’t know about Dr. King, after all?

Day Two

  • Survey what we already know about King and analyze the broadcast and print news stories on Martin Luther King’s Birthday. Does this news coverage add significant information to our knowledge of King’s ideas? Homework: Read excerpts of King’s speeches and writings. Identify lines that stand out as interesting, deep, meaningful, moving or surprising.

Day Three

  • Form groups of students who have read different parts of the handout with King quotes. (jig saw) Share lines that most impressed students in their respective section of the reading and discuss what impressed them most.
  • Read a “class poem” by having each student read a line that impressed her/him in quick succession, one student after the other, until the whole class has read a line.

Day Four

Use student handout to guide students in writing an “article” about students learning about King’s “unknown” ideas.

Go to Hidden in Plain Sight Lesson and Handouts on OUSD Urban Dreams website.

Photo: Pan African News Wire, (c) Jo Freeman.

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