Why We Can't Wait finds Martin Luther King, Jr. confident, poised and
prepared to combat segregation in Birmingham, AL. In this account, MLK details
the brutality of mayor Bull Conner, infamous for turning water hoses on unarmed
protestors, and the bravery of ordinary citizens who were undeterred in their
commitment to justice. This volume contains "Letter from Birmingham Jail,"
one of MLK's most famous declarations about racial inequality. MLK also notes
the wisest decision he made during the Birmingham struggle, that of involving
young people who invigorated the protests and reminded everyone about the importance
of involving youth in working for social change. Drawing on the importance of
youth enables teachers to make visible the lineage between advocating for racial
and social injustice from 1963 to today, and the power-and importance-of young
people to assume that mantle.
Why We Can't Wait is useful for all curriculum units, discussions, and
investigations that grapple with the issues of justice and injustice, and this
text encourages students to think deeply about what it means to pursue nonviolence
in words and in action. Though written in the 1960s, it is impossible to read
Why We Can't Wait and not draw parallels to today. It is relevant for
today's students, as they find their way and seek to add their own voices to
the world. Why We Can't Wait provides a compelling rationale for helping
students think through how to effect substantive change.
How to Use This Guide
Why We Can't Wait is appropriate for grades 9-12, and for the English
and History classrooms. This guide is divided into four parts: pre-reading activities;
summaries of the chapters and teaching suggestions; post-reading activities;
and resources. Pre-reading activities are intended to build students' prior
knowledge and provide points of entry prior to reading the text. Summaries and
teaching suggestions include what happens in the chapter as well as various
activities that teachers can use to engage students in critical thinking about
the chapter. Post-reading activities are designed to help students synthesize
their reading and make connections to other aspects of their learning. Finally,
resources are included for extended study about the text. Teachers can break
up the reading based on their allocated time periods. The chapters can be broken
up to be adapted to classroom instructional time.
Predictions: Visit the Birmingham, AL Civil Rights Institute online (http://www.bcri.org/index.html)
and select 10-12 images from the resource gallery. In pairs, students will
look at the images and predict connections between the images and the text.
Writing Prompt: Ask students to write what they know about Martin Luther
King, Jr. Teachers can ask additional questions: How did they learn about
MLK? Do they think he is still important today? Allow students to share their
responses in small groups and/or whole class discussions.
Analysis: Teachers will give students a copy of a freedom song (see Bernice
Johnson Reagon's reflection about freedom songs on the PBS website Eyes on
the Prize: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/reflect/r03_music.html)
and ask students to analyze the song for meaning. Additional questions teachers
might ask: why would a group of people sing this song? If you were singing
this song, how would it make you feel, particularly if you were singing it
with a group of your friends? Would it make you feel brave? Afraid? Teachers
might also choose to play the song for students to accompany their reading
of the song.
Setting the Scene: Teachers and students will read Birmingham segregation
laws (available at: http://www.crmvet.org/info/seglaws.htm).
Teachers will ask students to either discuss or write their reactions to the
laws and discuss their responses.
Concept Map Activity: In groups of four, students discuss the relationships
among these words: justice, nonviolence, boycott, racism, segregation, freedom,
and resistance. What connections do these words have with one another? Students
will create a visual to show how these words interact.
Technology Incorporation: Using either Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/)
or Tagxedo (http://www.tagxedo.com/),
teachers may copy and paste parts of the text into a program. Once the words
are displayed, teachers will lead students in a discussion and exploration
about which words are displayed the most and what that might suggest about
The text contains words that teachers might use to assist students in their
vocabulary development. A list of words, including page numbers, is included
in the appendix of this guide. Some ways teachers might incorporate these vocabulary
Selecting words and grouping in "families" encourages students
to learn the words on a continuum. Teachers are encouraged to help students
understand the meaning and relationship of the words in connection with each
Decide which words are crucial for students' understanding of the text and
pre-teach those words.
Relate the new words to ones students might already know. Teachers might
press students to explain the connection between the words.
Teachers might want students to learn what the word means as well as what
it does not mean.
Teachers might also encourage students to actively use the words they are
learning (i.e. in writing assignments, during discussions, etc.) to increase
their comfort and familiarity with the words.
Teachers might encourage students to use a vocabulary journal for the new
words they learn. Potential journal entries could include word, part of speech,
usage, synonyms, antonyms, sentences, etc. Teachers should encourage students
to draw on their vocabulary journal regularly.
Summaries and Teaching Suggestions
Throughout the reading of the text, it is important to help students keep track
of the names and locations mentioned throughout the text. The following activities
can be used to help students deepen their understanding as they read.
Timeline: Instruct students to keep a timeline of events as they read. Teachers
might wish to provide students with a graphic organizer that allows them to
keep track of times and dates, or else students can be instructed to keep
track independently. The teacher might also want to create a bulletin board
where students can add events, pictures, newspaper clippings, etc. that helps
them make connections between the text and the present.
History/Story Maps: Teachers may advise students to keep history maps as
they read to improve their understanding of events. These maps ask students
to identity key historical events, what caused the event, the important people
involved, and how the event was resolved.
Problem-Solution Charts: MLK discusses several reasons he chooses nonviolent
action and civil disobedience. Teachers may assign students to create a chart
(two-column notes) where they list the problems on one side and solutions
on the other side to provide students with a visual representation of consequences,
causes and solutions.
Summarizing: Teachers might encourage frequent comprehension checks for
students as they read the text. Some summarizing strategies include think-write-pair-shares,
quick writing, turning passages from the text into summaries that are concise
and accurate, etc.
Double Entry Journals: Students use a notebook to record textual impressions
of what they read. Using two columns, the student records a quotation in the
left hand column and responds to the quotation in the right-hand column.
Summary:Dorothy Cotton authors the introduction to the text. Cotton,
who worked closely with King, was the Education Director for the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (SCLC) and explains being present when King decided to
proceed with a protest that would land him in prison. Cotton notes, "Martin's
decision to go to jail was a crucial turning point for the civil rights struggle."
Yet, as King himself explains, the decision to be incarcerated allowed him to
demonstrate his belief in the importance of freedom and justice. Cotton explains
how Freedom Songs bolstered the hope of her and other supporters, and concludes
with the assertion that the messages from Why We Can't Wait are relevant
and as urgent today as they were in Birmingham in 1963.
Cotton is a woman who was involved in the Civil Rights Movement (CRM). What
does it suggest about her role, and her importance, that she authors this
introduction rather than one of the male voices of the CRM?
Think about the relationship that Cotton describes between freedom songs
and the decision of MLK to press forward with the boycott and go to jail.
How did she, and others, draw strength from these songs?
Critical Thinking Activities
Research Dorothy Cotton. What was her connection to MLK? Why is she appropriate
to write the introduction?
Create a glossary of people who are mentioned in each chapter and research
their importance. Contrast what you learn in your research about them to King's
comments and interactions with them.
Watch the Spike Lee documentary Four Little Girls (1997). Write a
review of the documentary that also expands on the ideas from Why We Can't
Cotton discusses how freedom songs sustained nonviolent efforts. Listen
to a selection of freedom songs (http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=2269).
What do you notice? What words are repeated frequently? What do you notice
about rhythm? How do you feel listening to the songs? How might those who
sang these songs regularly have felt, particularly as they prepared for upcoming
Introduction by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1-4)
Summary:MLK sets the stage for Birmingham, Al in 1963. He describes
the racial disparities besetting African Americans in the United States and
argues, "Equality had never arrived. Equality was a hundred years late"
Why does MLK evoke an image of a boy and a girl when he talks about racial
disparities? What effect does this have on the reader? Why doesn't he talk
about men and women instead?
Compare the problems MLK outlines in 1963 to our current world. What similarities
and differences do you notice, particularly in your own community?
Chapter I: The Negro Revolution: Why 1963? (5-19)
Summary:MLK makes the case for why African Americans are ready to demand
equality. King provides important historical context for the upcoming nonviolent
action through detailing the failure of Brown v. Board of Education to end segregated
schools because of the Pupil Placement Law. He concludes that despite empty
promises, African Americans had been denied equality for too long, and the only
way to create that equality was to demand it and use nonviolence resistance
as the tool.
What is the mood that MLK creates in the beginning of this chapter when
he talks about the summer? How does he contrast the pleasantness of the summer
to the Negro Revolution?
How does MLK build suspense and tension in this chapter? What words do you
find particularly powerful? Why?
Why were most White Americans unprepared for a Negro uprising?
Consider how MLK contrasts personal life-threatening injury to national
violence. Are his comparisons more powerful because they are more personal?
Why or why not?
Describe how states were able to use the Pupil Placement Law to avoid integration.
What did states and the federal government do to avert African American
equality? Explain the different excuses these entities gave and MLK's responses
to their hedging.
Why was nonviolent resistance the best action to use, according to MLK?
Describe MLK's outlook at the end of this chapter. Is he reluctant? Hesitant?
What does his outlook suggest about the struggle ahead?
Critical Thinking Activities
Research Brown vs. Board of Education. What were the major points of the
case? What was supposed to occur as a result of the case? Why was the phrase
"all deliberate speed" difficult to enact?
Then and Now: MLK describes the conditions of African Americans in 1963
that demanded attention. What are the current conditions of African Americans
in the United States? Create a two-column chart that depicts the differences
and similarities between the two time periods. What can you determine based
on what has changed and what remains the same?
Venn Diagram: MLK also discusses the lack of economic opportunities that
beset African Americans. Create a venn diagram that records the challenges
to African Americans in 1963 to those challenging African Americans today.
What similarities and differences can you extract based on your diagram? How
much has changed? What accounts for changes? What accounts for factors that
remain unchanged? As an extension, what similarities do you notice about current
economic conditions for working-class adults, African American men, older
adults, and adolescents in comparison to 1963?
Begin to create a timeline of events. The first events should include historical
events that MLK mentions prior to 1963. Update this timeline as you read.
Chapter II: The Sword That Heals (21-45)
Summary: MLK begins with a description of ways African Americans were thwarted
in their attempts for parity, and then moves to an examination of different
leaders who attempted to uplift Blacks. Despite efforts by Black Muslims to
use violence, MLK contends that nonviolent resistance, accompanied by legal
action, was the most appropriate method of assuring change. He concludes that
because Birmingham remained one of the most segregated cities in the country,
it was the best place to stage a nonviolent resistance movement.
List the different ways some attempted to "keep the Negro in his place"
historically. What do you think would be some of the psychological effects
from these attempts on African Americans?
Explain how police brutality functioned as a threat to African Americans.
How did African American youth subvert police intentions? What was the message
these young people delivered with their actions?
What is "soul force"? How did soul force differ from physical
force? Why did MLK contend that soul force was more important to have than
What is tokenism? Why did MLK find it unacceptable?
MLK describes three men-Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus
Garvey-who combated racial inequality. What does MLK think are the flaws of
each man's goals?
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) assumed
prominence in this chapter. Describe the significance of this organization,
particularly as related to the challenges as described by MLK.
MLK explains his rationale for nonviolent resistance (NVR). What are the
pros and cons of nonviolence? Why was NVR difficult for some to accept?
How does MLK tie NVR to military protest? How does he link it to Christianity?
What do these associations do for his argument? Who is his audience? What
do such associations also suggest about his skill as an orator and as a leader
of a movement?
What is the difference between a violent army and a nonviolent army? Why
does MLK say a nonviolent army is more powerful? Do you agree?
For what reasons did NVR fail to achieve national acceptance? What does
this failure suggests about the movement, the leadership, the message? Do
you think that the movement was unsuccessful? Support your reasons with evidence.
What lessons did MLK learn from previous NVR efforts in Albany? How did
those successes and challenges from Albany influence his actions in Birmingham?
MLK writes, "The united power of southern segregation was the hammer.
Birmingham was the anvil" (p. 45). Why was Birmingham an appropriate
location for NVR?
Critical Thinking Activities
Research Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey. Create a
graphic organizer that compares and contrasts each man's accomplishments.
Research the Black Muslims. Produce a short presentation (PowerPoint, Prezi,
etc.) that informs an audience about this group and includes why this group
was opposed by MLK. Think, too, about MLK's indictment of militancy. For what
reasons did he consider militancy an unsuccessful tactic?
Debate: Define violent action and moral force. Which is more powerful: violent
action or moral force? Are there situations would one be more powerful than
Extension: Read (or reread) or watch To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee,
paying particular attention to the character of Atticus Finch. Why is he an
example of moral force? Write a short response that demonstrates your answer
to this question.
Examine the lyrics to Phil Ochs's song, "Talking Birmingham Jam"
What is the vision of Birmingham that Ochs portrays in his song? What similarities
do you notice between Ochs's song and MLK's words? Evaluate song as an effective
medium for delivering a political message.
Chapter III: Bull Connor's Birmingham (47-61)
Summary: MLK describes the setting of Birmingham, under the rule of segregationist
mayor Bull Connor. Connor wanted to limit national exposure that would inform
others about the injustices that occurred, but MLK and Fred Shuttlesworth moved
forward with integration efforts. MLK notes, "This city had been the country's
chief symbol of racial intolerance" (p. 56). The chapter concludes with
a thorough description of the strategies MLK and supporters incorporated in
preparation for ending segregation in the city.
As MLK details the inequalities in Birmingham, he focuses on the plight
of children. Why do you think he makes children the focus of his appeal?
Discuss the role of fear. What effect did it have on action (i.e. what did
fear do to influence how White and Black citizens advocated for change in
Birmingham?) and what effect did fear have on shaping citizens' response to
Analyze the role of Fred Shuttlesworth in agitating for social change. How
did he help citizens mobilize against Connor's efforts to stop integration?
Chart the steps Shuttlesworth and MLK took before deciding to move to a
Why was Birmingham such an appropriate location for NVR?
What was "Project C"? What were the goals of this initiative?
How did MLK and his supporters learn from their mistakes in Albany? What
changes did they make in Birmingham as a result of what they'd learned?
The initial focus of NVR was on the business community, specifically stores
with lunch counters. Why were these places selected first?
Evaluate the Project C strategy. What were the strengths and challenges?
How were boycott plans changed by the elections? Why did the plans have
Discuss how MLK and the SCLC garnered national support. Why was Harry Belafonte
What did MLK do in the time between the election and the run-off?
Critical Thinking Activities
In the first part of this chapter, MLK recounts what it was like for a
child to accompany his/her parents on segregated outings in Birmingham. Select
one of these "outings" for a journal entry. Be sure to write from
your five senses and accurately and thoroughly describe your outing, including
interactions with White residents of Birmingham.
Research Bull Connor. Who was he? What was his background? How did he become
mayor of Birmingham? Create a web page that includes information, video footage,
and a critique of his leadership.
Select one of the many people mentioned in this chapter for further research.
Present your findings in a Power Point, short speech, or podcast about their
importance bringing integration to Birmingham.
Wyatt Walker was another integral member of the movement in Birmingham.
Make a chart that lists his responsibilities. Then, determine how important
his role was to the overall efforts.
Harry Belafonte was an integral supporter for MLK. Find out more about his
Civil Rights contributions and his artistic performances and present in a
The run-off election is scheduled for April 2. MLK and Shuttlesworth have
sent out word about a meeting for all volunteers to prepare for launching
a direct-action campaign. Write a journal entry from the perspective of MLK,
Shuttlesworth, one of the people who attended the meeting or one of the people
who received word but did not attend the meeting.
Chapter IV: New Day in Birmingham (63-84)
Summary: Despite an unclear resolution about who was going to be the new mayor,
MLK galvanizes volunteers and begins a direct-action campaign to end segregation
in Birmingham. Through extensive training and bolstered by Freedom Songs, MLK
and his supporters prepared themselves for arrests and opposition. In a planned
act of civil disobedience, MLK and Fred Shuttlesworth are arrested and MLK was
placed in solitary confinement. After intervention from President Kennedy and
Harry Belafonte, MLK is freed, and realizes the strength of his faith.
How did the two governments threaten MLK's attempts?
Discuss the strategies and actions of the direct-action campaign. Focus
on the amount of planning required for these actions.
Who were the people who organized and sustained the effort? What were their
As you read through the people involved, what omissions do you notice? Where
are the women, for example? What do you think of these omissions?
Why was a nonviolent army different from a traditional army?
What did training sessions entail? Why was this training necessary?
How did MLK involve everyone in NVR, even those not able to demonstrate?
What does this ability to find roles for everyone suggest about his leadership
and the importance of involving many people within the movement?
Read the Commitment Card (p. 69). Which of the Ten Commandments do you think
would be easiest for you to follow? Would you have been able to sign the card?
Why did MLK face opposition from other African Americans in Birmingham?
How did this opposition impact MLK and SCLC efforts to organize? How does
MLK regard the Black leaders who opposed him? How does MLK detail the opposition,
and what explanations does he offer? How did they rebuild/regain support?
What is an outsider? Explore MLK's contention on page 74. Do you agree or
disagree with his contention?
The lunch-counter sit-ins were only the first forms of NVR. What were some
others? How did these multiple forms of resistance strengthen MLK's efforts?
How did Bull Connor attempt to respond to the arrests of Black protesters?
Why was this response out of character for him?
Discuss how the injunction was an attempt to end NVR. How did MLK subvert
the one issued by Bull Connor?
What is civil disobedience? Describe MLK's use of civil disobedience, his
decision to employ it, and the impact of his use of it.
How does MLK convince himself that, despite having no money for bail, he
must go to jail?
What happened when Coretta King intervened? What does this suggest about
how MLK was regarded nationally?
How is MLK reassured that he is really not in solitary confinement?
Critical Thinking Activities
Conduct research on "freedom songs." What was their importance?
Why was singing freedom songs such an important part of the movement? Present
your findings and include songs that were sung.
You are 21-years old and have a sister who is a year younger. You have been
selected to demonstrate, but your sister has not. She is saddened, making
you question if you should accept the offer to begin the training. What do
you do? What advice do you give to your sister?
Write a dialogue that might have happened between MLK attempting to convince
one of the Birmingham business and professional people to support him.
MLK's faith is tested in this chapter and he recounts feeling "alone
in that crowded room" (p. 80) when faced with the possibility of not
having enough money for bail. Write an interior monologue that captures MLK's
Find the lyrics of "We Shall Overcome." Write an analysis that
draws parallels between the lyrics and the use of the song by MLK and his
MLK describes the march that landed him in jail on page 81. Write a "You
Are There" account as a participant in what MLK called "a beautiful
As an extension, read excerpts from Thoreau's essay "On Civil Disobedience"
and compare to MLK's reasons for invoking civil disobedience. What similarities
and differences do you notice?
Chapter V: Letter from Birmingham Jail (85-109)
Summary: "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is one of MLK's most
famous entreaties. Written while awaiting bail on the margins of a newspaper,
MLK, who addresses his fellow clergymen, details his reasons for nonviolent
action in Birmingham. He broadens his appeal to include the larger importance
of justice and injustice, and strengthens his claims and rationale by invoking
history. Additionally, MLK expresses his disappointment with White moderates
and the White church, noting the dearth of White allies before concluding with
a hope for solidarity and healing upon his release.
One of MLK's most famous lines is on page 87, when he declares, "Injustice
anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." What does this line mean,
and why is it still relevant?
What rhetorical devices are at work in this letter? How does MLK garner
support for his cause?
MLK explains the four principles of a nonviolent campaign on page 87. How
was each step enacted in Birmingham?
How does MLK explain the need for direct action?
What is "violent tension"? Why does MLK say it is necessary?
Read the paragraph on pages 91-92 aloud. What effect does reading it aloud
have? Look closely at the punctuation. What is the impact of using semicolons
rather than periods?
What is required to break an unjust law? Why is breaking an unjust law "expressing
the highest respect for the law"?
How does MLK strengthen his claims about civil disobedience by invoking
history? Do you think these invocations strengthen or weaken his argument?
Why is MLK disappointed with White moderates?
Think about how MLK describes time on page 98. How is time used as a metaphor?
Do you find this use of time effective?
How does MLK reconcile himself to being labeled an extremist? What other
extremists does he name? On page 101, he writes, "So the question is
not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."
Reflect on this statement.
Why would MLK commend the police for brutality?
MLK draws on the weak and innocent (children, Black women) to evoke sympathy.
What are the reasons he does this?
Critical Thinking Activities
Socratic Seminar: What is the difference between a just and an unjust law?
Are there examples of just and unjust laws today? Explain.
Select 3-5 quotations from this chapter and illustrate them. Find examples
that relate to Birmingham and today.
Write an essay that contrasts conditions in MLK's letter to an issue and
its conditions within your world. If you were to create a form of nonviolent
resistance to address those conditions, what would you do?
Chapter VI: Black and White Together (111-128)
Summary: Released from incarceration, MLK ratchets up the intensity of civil
disobedience and NVR by involving young people, citing it as "one of the
wisest moves we made." He details "D" Day, May 2, when more than
1,000 young people demonstrated and went to jail in the Children's March. Violence
escalates in this chapter, and MLK details how protestors marched against vicious
dogs, fire hoses and police opposition, placing Birmingham firmly in the national
spotlight. With a tentative agreement to end segregation finally forged, White
opposition returns before being defeated, leaving MLK to remark, "Once
on a summer day, a dream came true. The city of Birmingham discovered a conscience"
Did MLK want to come out of prison? What ultimately compelled him to leave?
Explain MLK's decision to involve young people.
How were students recruited?
Think about the young people who participated in the movement. What words
can you come up with to describe their importance? What character qualities
do you think they had?
Describe the various ways young people got involved. Be sure to note the
ages of young people.
What role did humor play in the youth's nonviolent resistance? Why was humor
important for MLK to note?
Bull Conner was losing support from White citizens. Why was this loss of
support so amazing? What were the reasons? What did White neutrality indicate?
Describe civil contempt. Why did MLK define it as "figuratively hold[ing]
the jailhouse keys in the palm of your hand"?
Why was Burke Marshall surprising and significant?
How did the song "We Shall Overcome" calm MLK and others in the
aftermath of the bombing? What does this ability suggest about the power of
song? Of this particular song?
Critical Thinking Questions
This chapter addresses the reality of what happens when young people are
involved in effecting social change. What other contexts can you find in which
young people were integral in organizing for change? Present your findings.
Recreate the conversation between MLK and his brother on page 125. Be sure
to incorporate the emotion described by MLK.
Chapter VII: The Summer of Our Discontent (129-148)
Summary: MLK broadens his reflection about the freedom struggle of African
Americans in Birmingham. Opposition and resistance to integration continued,
with increasing violence. He notes the achievements of the movement while reminding
that numerous challenges remained, leading up to the March on Washington near
the end of the summer.
MLK begins the chapter with a graphic description of a young Black man killed
by poison gas. Why begin with such a haunting image? How does the image set
the tone for the chapter?
MLK writes on page 131, "In the summer of 1963, the Negroes of America
wrote an emancipation proclamation to themselves." What does he mean?
What was the response to the settlement by White citizens? What did these
responses indicate about the settlement? Who does MLK implicate in his condemnation
of the response by White citizens?
MLK often locates events in Birmingham within a larger historical context,
often of resistance. What is the effect of drawing on history in his argument?
Does it strengthen or weaken his argument? What is the relationship between
the historical events he recounts and Birmingham?
Is MLK optimistic near the end of the first section (pg. 135)? What does
this paragraph suggest about him as a leader? As a part of the movement?
What is the difference between a social movement and a revolution?
MLK describes the remaining challenges on page 138. Have the goals been
adjusted? Describe his outlook regarding the remaining work to be accomplished.
Why were moderates another form of resistance?
MLK uses the word "our" on page 143. How does the use of this
word extend the cause to others?
Why was the March on Washington successful?
Why was the participation of the White church significant?
Critical Thinking Activities
Research the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. What were the primary aims of the
List the results of the movement on page 139. Which results do you find
most effective? Do any of these results remain today? Why or why not?
Explore the March on Washington, noting the debate held by MLK and his supporters
in section 4 of this chapter. Visit the NPR website (http://www.npr.org/news/specials/march40th/)
for coverage of the 40th anniversary of the March as well as information about
Who was A. Philip Randolph? Research and present information about this
important leader. Visit the A. Philip Randolph Institute (http://www.apri.org/ht/d/Home/pid/212)
for information, pictures and videos.
Chapter VIII: The Days to Come (149-182)
Summary: MLK addresses the scars of racism that remain after Birmingham. He
stresses urgency and reminds readers that African Americans cannot be denied
equal rights based on what they learned through participation in nonviolent
resistance. Refusing to allow efforts to wane and to allow African Americans
to regress in their efforts for civil rights, MLK rejects compromise and resolves
that all will continue fighting for what is owed Blacks in the United States.
He continues that America must atone for injustices suffered by Blacks, including
economic opportunities. He proposes a Disadvantaged Bill of Rights as well as
details alliances necessary to assure progress. Finally, he articulates the
implications of the Civil Rights struggle on a national and international scale
and the legacy of nonviolent resistance.
What parallels does MLK draw between slaves who purchased their freedom
MLK describes the difficult economic conditions of African American workers
in 1963. How do these conditions compare to African American workers today?
MLK provides an answer to the question, "What more does the Negro want?"
How does he answer this query?
What is a compromise? What does it mean? Why does MLK call compromising
"profane and pernicious" (p. 155)?
Why did some try to create division among Blacks? Why did MLK say these
efforts would be unsuccessful?
Reflect on the statement "Someone once wrote: 'When you are right,
you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative'"
What is atonement? What would atoning for injustices suffered by Blacks
What examples of programs for the deprived does MLK provide? How did these
programs benefit particular groups?
What is the Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged? Who would benefit?
What is the condition of the White poor? Why would they also benefit from
a Bill of the Disadvantaged?
Why is Southern acceptance of racial equality slow to come?
What will the freedom movement need to do to continue its progress?
What similarities does organized labor have with Black civil rights? Why
does MLK say Blacks need to make alliances?
What is the role of the federal government?
How does MLK implicate everyone in JFK's death? Why? Do you think MLK is
Why does MLK want Blacks to form political alliances?
Critical Thinking Questions
Design a response that answers this question, "How then can he [the
Negro] be absorbed into the mainstream of American life if we do not do something
special for him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him to compete
on a just and equal basis?" (p. 159).
Research the debate about reparations. What are they? Who wants them? Who
opposes them? How are reparations similar to what MLK suggests for African
Americans? Stage a debate about whether or not reparations are needed, and,
if so, what those reparations would entail.
Research the Wagner Act to understand why MLK wanted a similar plan.
Compare the legislation of Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy.
MLK notes a number of unsolved crimes of civil rights leaders. Who are these
people? Conduct research and create a presentation that details the people
and updates your audience on the status of solving their murders.
Culminating Essay Topics
Young people were an important catalyst in the efforts for equality in Birmingham.
Evaluate the importance of their role and decide if you think involving young
people was, indeed, the wisest decision MLK made.
What are the requisite skills needed to create social change? Are they inherent,
or can they be cultivated? What are the most important skills one must have?
What problems could be addressed by nonviolent action? Select one issue
and propose how nonviolent action could be used to solve it. Be sure to incorporate
technology and other modes of communication you use frequently, as well as
a rationale for how and why you would use each aspect of nonviolent resistance.
In addition, propose an appropriate audience to present your proposal. If
possible, work with your teacher and peers to present your proposal to that
audience for feedback and to demonstrate what you've learned.
What are the larger contributions of the Civil Rights struggle? What evidence
suggests that the Civil Rights struggle was a success? Was it a success? What
must be done to continue the Civil Rights struggle today? What are the issues
that need attention in your world?
Civil Rights Digital Library contains digital video archives and a virtual
library, including political cartoons: http://crdl.usg.edu/
Citizen King Website by PBS details MLK's life after Montgomery. The site
includes an interactive map of Civil Rights hotspots as well as more information
on his philosophical influences: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/mlk/index.html
Teaching Tolerance has an array of teacher resources and teaching ideas
appropriate for continuing to integrate principles of nonviolence and social
justice into curriculum: http://www.tolerance.org
About the Author of This Guide:
Kimberly N. Parker, Ph.D. currently teaches English at Newton North High School
in Newton, MA. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University
of Illinois-Champaign Urbana and has expertise in literacy and African American
young men. Dr. Parker has taught in urban public schools in Boston and has published
articles and given professional development about the literacy practices of
young people of Color.