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From Freedom Summer to Ferguson: Teaching Martin Luther King, Jr. in 21st Century Classrooms


“[Students] are in reality standing up for the best in the American dream. . . . One day historians will record this student movement as one of the most significant epics of our heritage.” —Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Time for Freedom Has Come”, September 10, 1961

During the civil rights movement of the 20th century, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood up against the injustices of the time to make America a better place for all people. More than 45 years after his assassination, his message is still relevant as we continue to struggle with issues like unjust laws, racism, poverty, and war.

We believe that talking with young people about his vision and its continued relevance will better enable them to build the America Dr. King envisioned. Educators, however, were lacking a good resource for teaching King in their classrooms, often resorting to using photocopied pages from various websites, while also lamenting about the mass amounts of incorrect information and untrusted resources online. As a result of discussions with educators about the importance of teaching King and the lack of available resources, A Time to Break Silence: The Essential Works of Martin Luther King, Jr., for Students was conceived. The writings and speeches in the collection were selected by teachers across a variety of disciplines and speak to the issues young people face today.

To support teachers in successful use of the anthology in their classrooms, we partnered with the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute to create supporting materials including a free online curriculum, aligned with the Common Core, and an interactive website where students can listen to and read an illustrated version of “I Have a Dream.” As Dr. Andrea McEvoy Spero, a teacher and curriculum developer at the King Institute, explained, “the corresponding curriculum guide and website provides teachers and students with 21st century learning tools and innovative ways to explore the African American Freedom struggle in American history.”

Continuing our efforts to support teachers in using the text, this month, we are launching a series of workshops in three cities, “From Freedom Summer to Ferguson: Teaching Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Twenty-first Century” to provide hands-on instruction to teachers. With sessions led by Dr. Kimberly Parker, a Boston-based educator, and Dr. Spero, teachers will learn close reading strategies, historical connections, and writing ideas that will enable them to share King’s work with their students and meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards. Activities will focus not just on Dr. King’s more well-known speeches, such as “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream,” but also lesser-known works, including “The Sword that Heals” and “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?”

Following is the schedule of events:

For teachers that are unable to attend one of these events, Beacon will be releasing instructional videos based on the Boston workshops. To be alerted when the videos are available, email us at [email protected] with the subject line “King Workshop Video” to be added to our announcement list.