Lesson: Dr. King and the Movement

Teaching Tolerance considers the legacy of Dr. King's dream of a just and equal society for all and how much of the dream remains deferred.
Grade Level

Now I realize that there are those all over who are telling us that we must slow up. … But we cannot afford to slow up. We have a moral obligation to press on. We have our self-respect to maintain. But even more we can't afford to slow up because of our love for America and our love for the democratic way of life. … We must keep moving. We must keep going.
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
From "The Montgomery Story," an address to the 47th annual NAACP Convention, San Francisco, June 27, 1956


Classroom Discussion and Writing Prompts

  • Why did Dr. King believe people involved in the Civil Rights Movement had to "press on"? (It was a moral obligation, a matter of self-respect and a necessary way to demonstrate love for the U.S. and democracy.)
  • Do you agree that standing up against racism and injustice is a moral obligation? A matter of self-respect? A demonstration of love? Why? (Answers will vary.)
  • What would have happened if Dr. King and other activists had "slowed up" during the Movement? If they hadn't "kept moving," how would your life be different today? How would our "democratic way of life" be different? (Answers will vary.)
  • How did King's leadership — and the outcomes of the Civil Rights Movement — expand the meaning of the "democratic way of life" in the U.S.? (Answers will vary.)
  • Describe one way racism remains a problem in the U.S. today. Do you have a "moral obligation to press on"? Why? (Answers will vary.)


Extension Activities

Take a Stand: During the classroom discussion, make notes about beliefs expressed by students, i.e. "Today, we are judged only by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin," or "Segregation is still a big problem today." Ask students to stand. Read each belief statement and ask students to decide whether they agree (if so, move to the left side of the room) or disagree (move to the right side of the room). Once all students have taken a position, ask volunteers to explain their stands.

Keep Moving Display: Ask students to trace each of their feet on a sheet of paper, and cut out their "paper feet." On one foot, students should write or illustrate a benefit they receive as a result of Dr. King's work; on the other, they should write or illustrate one way they personally will act to ensure that his work keeps moving forward. Arrange students' "feet" into a "We Must Keep Moving" display in the classroom, hallway or school entrance.

Lesson: An American Timeline: This lesson, based on the poster timeline, covers some of the accomplishments and events involving Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the years 1954-1968, as well as the posthumous 1983 designation of the federal holiday in honor of his life. The reality of this timeline could be infinite, however, if we were to include all that King accomplished and all that has been impacted by his work.

Focus: In 1956, at the 47th annual convention of the NAACP in San Francisco, Dr. King told his audience, "we can't afford to slow up…we must keep moving…we must keep going." Seven years later Dr. King delivered his famous speech, "I Have a Dream" at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., and stated, "Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning." This speech is credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Use it as a catalyst to mobilize students in expanding our timeline through their own research and activities.

Make a card game. Break students into diverse groups of four to six. Ask each group to select five entries from the timeline and create illustrations for those entries on index cards. Gather the students' cards, and distribute a different set to each group, making sure the cards are delivered in non-chronological sequence. Referencing the timeline, students should try to match the illustrations with events and put them in chronological sequence. Ask each group to share the stories portrayed by the illustrations, highlighting ways the events build on one another.

Create an annotated timeline. Break students into small groups, assigning each group specific entries from the timeline. Using library resources and the Internet, ask groups to locate eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos, magazine articles and/or newspaper accounts about each decade's entries. Depending on school resources, groups can create multimedia presentations based on their findings, or use butcher paper or poster board to create visual displays. Post student findings on the school or classroom website, or as a display that others can study.

Test your textbook. Ask students to compare the timeline to their U.S. history textbook:

  • Are the entries reflected in the textbook? If not, what is your textbook's focus for the years 1954-1968? How might that focus relate to, or draw attention away from, the struggle for civil rights?
  • Does your textbook include events in the civil rights struggle not included on Teaching Tolerance's timeline? Describe them.

The textbook publisher made conscious decisions about what to include and exclude from your textbook. In making those selections, what messages does the publisher send about the importance of knowing civil rights history?

Discuss the groups' findings as a class. As a follow-up activity, students can write letters to the textbook publisher or to the district or state office responsible for textbook selection.

Speak up. The timeline references several of Dr. King's speeches. Most are available online for free through the King Papers Project. Ask students to select excerpts from King's speeches, and use them as models for constructing "mini-speeches" about contemporary racism and injustice. Encourage students to deliver their speeches to peers in class, or as part of a school assembly.

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

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