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English Language Institute
Technology Tip of the Month

January, 1998: Civil Rights in the US

by Deborah Healey

January in the US brings up several holidays. One that has grown in prominence since it began in 1986 is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, which is celebrated on the third Monday in January. There are a great many sites on the Web related to Dr. King. The Tech Tip this month will suggest specific classroom activities related to civil rights, with a focus on Dr. King. For some excellent links, see Suzan Moody's Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday pages at Many of the links there are also in this Tech Tip.

Useful Vocabulary

assassination (noun)
The killing of an important political or religious person (verb: to assassinate)

boycott (verb, noun)
To avoid buying a product or a service; not buying a product or service

busing (noun)
Taking children to a school away from their neighborhood by bus, rather than letting them go to school in their own neighborhood (verb: to bus; bussed)

civil rights (noun)
The idea that a person must be allowed to have a job, rent a place to live, and any other legal action without paying attention to their race, color, or religion.

demonstrate (verb)
To gather a large group of people, usually with signs and banners, to get the government or the public to do or stop doing something (noun: demonstration)

discriminate (verb)
To select one person rather than another for an inappropriate reason, such as by race, color, or religion (noun: discrimination)

lunch counter (noun)
A long, tall table in a public restaurant where many people sit to eat

lynch (verb)
To come as a group, kidnap someone, and kill that person, usually by hanging. "Lynch mob" refers to that group of people. (noun: lynching)
march (verb, noun)
To walk as a group, usually with signs and banners; a walk in a group

non-violent resistance (noun)
Behavior that is against the government or public policy but that does not use violence against people

prejudice (noun)
The belief that one group is better than another for an inappropriate reason, such as due to race, color, or religion

protest (verb, noun)
To argue publicly against a belief or government action

repression (noun)
Action by a group in power to keep those without power from having any influence (verb: to repress)

Activities for getting background information

A Few Important People

Who are these people and what did they do? Look them up on the Web or in an encyclopedia and summarize for the class. Try to find a photograph to show.

A Few Important Groups

What did these groups do for the civil rights movement? Do any of them still exist? If so, what do they do now? Look them up on the Web or in an encyclopedia and summarize for the class.

Getting Started

The Seattle Times Martin Luther King, Jr. site has some of the best educational links around. One of their sections has public service ads, which are great discussion starters. I've put some questions for discussion with one of my favorites, "Love is not the answer, it's the assignment". This is a large image, so it may take time to load on a slow connection. You may want to print it out.

There are a couple of timelines that may help put this holiday into perspective. The Seattle Times has one; Stanford University's site for Dr. King has another.


There are a number of quotes from Dr. King at Divide the class into groups; have each group explain a different quote. Advanced students can be asked to create paraphrases for the quotes. Since these are shor ter, they're more usable by intermediate-level students than the whole speeches.

Here are a few that would be good for intermediate- to advanced-level students:
Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967.
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait, 1964.
If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Wall Street Journal, November 13, 1962.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

For listening practice, have students listen to some of Dr. King's speeches at the Seattle Times site or at theWebcorp site. (The ones in wav format are for Windows machines, and RealAudio format will work on both Mac and Windows machines.) A sample cloze for the Let Freedom Ring selection at the Seattle Times site is below.
(Mac and cross-platform version of the sound file; Windows version of the sound file.)

Sample Cloze
Students can check their answers at

Yet another resource from the Seattle Times site is a quiz that students can check online. This is best done after they've spent some time with the history of Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

Advanced students who are doing research on Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement should be looking at the Stanford University site. This has the full text of several speeches, as well as a great deal of supplementary information.

Other Information

You may also want to add some of the other events going on at the time related to Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party. 1965 saw the assassination of Malcolm X and race riots in the Watts district of Los Angeles. In 1967, a major Black Power conference was held in Newark, New Jersey; later that year, riots broke out in Cleveland, Newark, Seattle, and Detroit. Riots followed the death of Dr. King in 1968. The violent side of US history is often left out of information about Dr. King, and the focus kept on non-violent struggle. Would Dr. King have had as much success without the threat of violence from other groups if Dr. King's methods did not succeed?

You can listen to some of Malcolm X's speeches at the Webcorp site,

Another excellent source of information about civil rights and human rights action is a CD-ROM called Amnesty Interactive from Amnesty International, sold by EduCorp and other mail order vendors. It puts the civil rights action in the US in a global context.

See Other tech tips

If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009