Primary Sources - Martin Luther King's Letter From Birmingham Jail

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Primary Sources: Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail

By © 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; © renewed 1991 Coretta Scott King  09/01/2016

Click here a version of the letter without subscribing to Newslea.

From the Birmingham jail, where he was imprisoned as a participant in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in longhand the letter which follows. It was his response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. 

Genre - Non-Fiction
Text Structure -Letter
Grade Levels - 2-12 (You can select the lexile level on the Newsela website)
Themes -  Peaceful Protest, injustice, segregation, civil rights in America, prejudice, doing the right thing, community, courage, standing firm in the face of discrimination

Rings of Culture represented -

Ethnicity: black/whiteness
Age: various
Gender: boy
Socio -Economic: various
National: United States

Why It's VABBulous

  • This letter is timeless and relevant to current civil/human rights issues

  • It is rigorous in subject matter, vocabulary and instructional opportunity.

  • t is adapted to be engaging for various levels of readers on the Newsela webiste.

  • It addresses the current topics/themes of non-violent protests and can be used to discuss many current events

  • It is applicable to many rings of culture, and also addresses the layers of the Iceberg of Culture

CLR Instructional Ideas

Set It Off (Into the Text)

  • Access prior knowledge, build interest in the text, and engage students in thoughtful conversation.

1. Do a Think–Pair-Share with the two prompts(or similar prompts) below:

  • Why do people protest things in America?

  • Is peaceful protest in the United States a right that should be appreciated and protected? Why or why not?

2. Either have students find images of peaceful protests on their phones, computers, or ipads, or display the images below –

Look at the images and write your response to one of the prompts below:

  • Why do these non-violent protests make people uncomfortable, and/or angry?

  • Explain why the nature of protest might be to cause tension?

  • Explain whether or not there is a right way to protest peacefully or a wrong way to protest peacefully.

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3. Use Musical Shares to discuss responses to prompts

The Get Down (Through the Text)

Read Aloud

1. Train Reading

  • Choose 3-5 proficient readers prior to reading and tell them which section of the text they will be reading out loud.

  • As proficient readers, read aloud, as the rest of the class to highlight/underline, lines/passages that stand out to them as significant.

  • The teacher can begin the reading, or just have a student begin.

Literacy and Discussion Activity

1. Diamond Discussion + Who’s the Stray

Prompt for Diamond Discussion

  • Imagine you are Dr. King and you must respond to those who are in opposition to the current protests happening in the United States i.e. (DACA, #takeaknee, DAPL, Black Lives Matter, #notme/timesups and others) Identify lines, quotes, evidence in the Letter from Birmingham Jail and explain how you can apply the insights, and beliefs expressed in the letter to one or more of today’s protests.

3. Allow students approx. 10 minutes to discuss/collaborate in their groups  and then begin the first round of Who’s the Stray.   Repeat the process in 5-7 minute increments so that students have time to discuss/synthesize the information they got from other groups.

How else can you VABB the Letter from Birmingham Jail for your students of all ages? 
Check out the latest issue of VABB Perspectives for more ideas!