Digital Tools to Explore Martin Luther King's Legacy

Posted by Daniel Braunfeld on January 13, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed in the United States next week, celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King and calling people from all walks of life to work together in support of the common good. The day provides an important opportunity for students to study the civil rights movement in the United States and King’s role within it, but it also can – and should – be a moment for young people to reflect on their own civic agency, and to find ways to participate as upstanders in their communities. Here are some new ideas for honoring King using digital media.

1. Explore How King Used Technology to Get His Message Out

In the new collection A Time to Break Silence: The Essential Works of Martin Luther King Jr., for Students, readers learn that King not only utilized civil disobedience and non-violent protest to mobilize citizens and advocate for equality, but he also took advantage of the then-emerging technology, television. The book, which collects a wide array of King’s speeches on different topics and from different moments in his career, can spark an interesting classroom discussion on the role of media in the civil rights movement (to watch a recorded webinar about the collection please click here). As this excerpt shows, television helped King to gain support, draw in the disenfranchised, and change how people thought and acted on issues of equality:

“Southern newspapers often reported news about the protests in a way that was favorable to the local white community. But Dr. King saw that the then-new medium of television was showing segregation for what it really was. Day after day people across the United States were seeing peaceful, nonviolent people of color being harassed by young white toughs based purely on the color of their skin.”

It was important for the success of the movement that the national media capture the brutality and hatred of local police and communities toward peacefully protesting youth. In this video from PBS, you can hear from people who joined the movement at a young age and see how the media covered the hostility they encountered:

Here are some teaching strategies to help students analyze iconic images from the time while developing Media Literacy skills.

Connection Questions

  • What role did the media have on issues of social justice in King’s time?
  • What impact did young people have in the fight for equality?

2. Discover Digital Resources to Understand Media as a Tool for Social Change

Inspired by King’s understanding that media is an important tool for social change, here are two digital resources to help students dive into the history of the civil rights movement and King’s important role within that history:

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._speaking_at_the_Civil_Rights_MarcFreedom’s Ring: King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Compare written and spoken versions of King’s speech, explore multimedia images, listen to movement activists, and uncover historical context in this animated presentation of one of King’s most famous speeches. Encourage students to consider how the echoes of King’s words live within each of them.

The King Center Digital Archive

There are nearly a million documents associated with the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Discover letters, speeches, telegrams, and more.

Connection Activities

  • King’s speeches include many historical, biblical, and social references. Have students make an annotated “Story Board” version of one of King’s speeches, like the one on Freedom’s Ring, then consider the question, “How do these references change our understanding of the speech?”
  • One of King’s most famous “speeches” was actually a letter he wrote from his cell in Birmingham Jail. Other speeches he delivered verbally. What is the difference between these two types of communication? What must an author do to make sure the message is understood, whether written or spoken?

3. Use Digital Tools to Apply King’s Lessons to Today

Looking back and studying the history of King is not the end of our task as educators. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is officially recognized as “a day on, not a day off,” encouraging all of us to participate in service to make our world a more just and equal place. Help students connect and spread awareness with these suggested sites:

  • uses the power of video and storytelling to spread the message about human rights violations. Students can explore videos here, as well as find tips for creating their own videos. And check out these tips on how to report your own story.
  • helps young people advocate for social change through national campaigns. Other online platforms can help students learn about starting petitions.  

How do you mark the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Comment below with your favorite resource, activity, or strategy.

Topics: Choosing to Participate, Civil Rights, Media Skills, Online Learning, Facing Technology

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