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Going Deeper on MLK Day

Thursday, January 16, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

A few years ago, I was hunting through YouTube for video of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as a component of my public speaking unit. As often happens at YouTube, I went down the rabbit hole of MLK videos and I realized that me, a college-educated person with a political science minor, had only seen one artifact of MLK’s impact on the country—the Dream speech.

That’s a disservice to the man and his work. There are so many other facets of his cause and his personality to study other than one speech. If you’re considering an MLK lesson for around his holiday, do your students a favor and widen the net a little with these videos and activities.

Artifacts from the Nobel Peace Prize

Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work in civil rights. The official site of the Nobel Prize has amassed some artifacts from 1964, including the presentation speech, which gives a valuable overview of the reverend’s life, as well as video from the ceremony and text from his acceptance speech. The site serves as a great starting point on a King lesson.

King on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 1965

Our narrow view of the man makes us think that all he did was give important speeches. Just like anyone in the public eye, he sometimes had to participate in television interviews, like this one on “Meet the Press”. You get to see Dr. King’s debating skills at work here, as well as the occasional joke. A more rounded representation.

King on “The Mike Douglas Show” in 1968

This video is along the same line, but will take some explanation. Dr. King might have appeared on “Meet the Press” expecting to be “grilled”, but Mike Douglas was more like Jay Leno or David Letterman. However, Mr. Douglas and Tony Martin leveled some hard-hitting questions at the reverend, but he stood his ground. This conversation was also around a different context than the 1965 video: the war in Vietnam.

The New York Times archive of King coverage

To get a better view of the context of the time, sometimes it’s valuable to see how the media covered the events of Dr. King’s career as they were happening. This gives the students a window into his life without the prism of historical significance and reverence; tell them to pretend these articles were in today’s newspaper. Also, this might be a good opportunity to practice some reading strategies like Cornell notes or active reading.