The Black Freedom Struggle: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in the Summer of 1963 (by Colleen Brennan)

Standards:
History-Social Science Content Standard (11)

11.10 Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights

4. Examine the role of civil rights advocates (Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X), including significance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream” speech.

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies (11)

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Overview:
In this lesson, students develop a greater understanding of the Black Freedom Struggle during the summer of 1963. This lesson allows students to engage in historical analysis of a primary source document, Letter to Martin Luther King, Jr., written by Malcolm X in the summer of 1963, in which Malcolm X invites Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at the Harlem Unity Rally in 1963. Fundamentally, students develop an understanding of the ideological differences between civil rights advocates, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Students engage additional primary sources and secondary sources to analyze the main document’s ideas and information as well as its structure. First, students learn about the Cold War context of the summer of 1963 by reading biographies of President John F. Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev, and by reading about the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The treaty serves as a connecting point between the international political context and the primary source document, because Malcolm X references the treaty in his letter. On the first day, the class will watch an address by President Kennedy concerning civil rights and read an excerpt about President Kennedy’s use of cold war tactics in domestic politics regarding civil rights. Thus, students connect international politics and domestic politics to the civil rights movement. Next, students use close-reading to analyze the primary source, and the class collectively explicate the most important points within the document and any questions about the social context and ideologies discussed. Students should be able to use their knowledge of the political context to critically analyze the political references within the letter. For day two, students demonstrate their use of specific textual evidence from the letter and assigned readings, and provide summaries of relationships between important details and ideas from primary and secondary sources. One reading emphasizes the social context of the younger generation, and in particular, their shifting ideology to Black Nationalism not aligned with the Nation of Islam. In class, students present their understanding of the Black Freedom Struggle and the ideologies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X after reading and discussing primary and secondary sources, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. The variety of sources also discuss the events that influenced the Black Freedom Struggle in the spring/summer of 1963. Thus, this lesson allows students to critically think about ideological differences and their importance within the Black Freedom Struggle.

For day three, students synthesize their knowledge from the unit’s primary and secondary sources by articulating an understanding of the complex relationships between the Black Freedom Struggle, the resurgence of Black Nationalism, and the ideologies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. within the social and political (international and domestic) context of the primary source document. Finally, students watch Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, because the speech was delivered at the end of the summer of 1963. Students should engage in a critical discussion of the importance of the speech using their coherent understanding of the events and ideologies present in the summer of 1963. The speech not only impacted the nation, but also other civil rights advocates, like Malcolm X. Students should be able to critically discuss the ideology within the speech, its differences and similarities to other ideologies, and why or why not the ideology is important today.

Essential Understanding:
Students will develop a larger understanding of the social and political context which shaped civil rights advocates’ ideologies and roles, specifically Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., within the Black Freedom Struggle into the summer of 1963, and how these ideologies influenced the younger generation that would succeed them.

Questions:
What was the Cold War context of the time?

Primarily concerning Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., what were their perspectives of and solutions to the racial crisis in the US at the time?

How was the younger generation responding to the Black Freedom Struggle movements at the time?

In the Spring and Summer of 1963, what influenced Malcom X to call for unity of the different perspectives within the Black Freedom Struggle?

Glossary:
Black Nationalism: a movement promoting economic self-sufficiency, African culture, and social and political Black separatism.

Civil Rights: citizens’ rights to political and social freedom and equality

Introduction:
During the spring/summer of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. participated in the Birmingham Campaign, and this campaign sought to end segregation practices by pressuring the city and its merchants.1 However, local officials used police dogs and fire hoses to disperse the protesters, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was also arrested and wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” during this time.2 The broadcasting of the violence on television sparked national outrage, and prompted President Kennedy to suggest civil rights legislation that would later become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.3 In the spring of 1963, President Kennedy also had to order National Guardsmen to the University of Alabama to ensure African-American students were able to attend the school. In his address to the nation, President Kennedy outlined the continued injustice faced by African-Americans in the United States, and the continued segregation in schools despite legal rulings calling for desegregation in schools.4 The violence of the summer of 1963 was a turning point for the Black Freedom Struggle.

Malcolm X is most often thought of as a militant figure and remembered for his time as a prominent spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Martin Luther King, Jr. is most well associated with non-violent protest, especially within the Southeast United States. However, in a letter from Malcolm X to Martin Luther King, Jr. in July 1963, Malcolm urged for a “United Front” for the African-American population in light of the increasing violence of the summer of 1963.5

The opening of Malcolm X’s letter alludes to increasing violence and the need for unity between “Negro factions, elements, and their leaders.”6 In addition to the violence of the summer, his sentiments came at a time when the younger generation of African-Americans was frustrated with the non-violent action of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the rigidity of the Nation of Islam.7 The ideological differences between the two men was important to the Black Freedom Struggle up to that point and moving forward. The violence of the summer and increasing frustration within the younger generation created a wave of urgency that, in part, led to Malcolm’s call for unity.

Based on popular thought, unity does not seem to be an important part of Malcolm X’s ideology. While Malcolm X had not left the Nation of Islam yet, his relationship with the Nation was shifting. Further, the media pitting the ideologies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, respectively, against one another influenced the public’s perspective of the Black Freedom Struggle,8 and the Unity Rally could combat that as the rally was meant “to reflect the spirit of unity.”9 Further, the concern about nuclear weapons since the Cuban Missile Crisis led to important negotiations between the United States and Soviet Union that culminated in the summer of 1963.10 President Kennedy also used his Cold War tactics in domestic politics concerning civil rights. Hence, the social and political events of the summer of 1963 were important factors that influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, and how the Black Freedom Struggle would be successful and change in the near future.

The ideologies present during the time are fundamental for understanding the current discourse concerning race in the United States. Further, the dynamic relationship between international and domestic politics is an important factor in today’s social discourse, just as it was in the past. Understanding the role of ideology, social changes, and politics in the past will allow you to understand the current processes influencing United States social and political issues.

Materials:
Primary:
“Excerpt from a Report to the American People on Civil Rights.”
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Letter to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (Video)

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (Transcript)

Nation of Islam: Tenets
“The New Afro-American Writer.” (pg. 10)

Secondary:
“The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
“The Effect of the Cold War on African-American Civil Rights”
“Malcolm and the Cross”
“Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.”
Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
President Kennedy
Premier Khrushchev
“The Unfinished Dialogue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.” (pp. 12–19)

Activities:
Before Day 1:
As homework to start the unit, have students read through the provided links of the Kennedy and Khrushchev biographies, if students are not already familiar with them, and the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Have students answer the following questions:
1. How were President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev different, especially ideologically?
2. How did the two governments agree to the Test Ban Treaty?

Day 1:
Start by watching the “Excerpt from a Report to the American People on Civil Rights” from President Kennedy.
Then, have students read the provided information in the link for “The Effect of the Cold War on African-American Civil Rights.”
Have students break into small groups, to discuss President Kennedy’s dialogue concerning the civil rights movement at the time, and how the President’s activity in international politics was also a part of his domestic politics.
Follow up this activity by reading through the Primary Source document: Letter to Martin Luther King, Jr.. Have students read through the letter in class. Allow students to spend time close-reading the document.
Then, have students share their questions and first thoughts concerning the letter, and write these on the board. Encourage students to share their thoughts concerning other students’ questions. Before ending class, make sure each student has written the questions from the board for themselves (this will be used for the homework).

Some important questions to draw attention to:
Who is Malcolm X?
Who is Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Who is Elijah Muhammad?
What is the “present racial crisis”?
What are the “powerful destructive ingredients”?
Who are the “Negro leaders” and what is “their analysis” and “their solution” to the “present race problem”?
What was the context of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, especially around the date of the letter?
Why did Malcolm X specifically write “capitalistic Kennedy” and “communistic Khrushchev”?
Did Kennedy and Khrushchev have “tremendous ideological differences”?
Were the differences between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. “‘minor’ differences”?
Why is Malcolm X calling for “unity,” and why is It “absolutely necessary”?
What is the “common problem posed by a Common Enemy”?

Before Day 2:
As homework, students will read “The Unfinished Dialogue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X” from pages 12-15, and “The New Afro-American Writer” on page 10. Students should read through these while thinking about the questions discussed in class. Students should write down what parts from each reading answer the questions from class or conflict with the ideas discussed in class.

Day 2:
As a short activity for the start of class, have students discuss their responses from the homework, either as a class or in smaller groups.

Split the class into 2 groups.
First, Group 1 will read “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” and Group 2 will read the link, Nation of Islam: Tenets and then, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.”
After students have had time to read and discuss the first reading, Group 1 will read “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” and Group 2 will read “Malcolm and the Cross.” Students will then prepare short presentations of their respective civil rights advocate which they will present to the class.

Some important topics for groups to include in their presentations: their advocate’s perspective of the current racial crisis, their advocate’s ideology concerning the solution to the current racial crisis, the conflicts discussed concerning their advocate’s perspective of other civil rights advocates, important events of influence to their advocate, and any topics of great discussion within the group. If time permits, encourage the whole class to discuss discrepancies between their sources concerning the relationship between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr..
Note:

Before Day 3:
As a final check of students’ understanding from the unit, assign the following homework:

Based on what we have read in homework and learned in class, answer the following questions using “Letter to Martin Luther King, Jr..”
1. What was the “present racial crisis”? How was the United States government involved in the crisis?
2. What are the “powerful destructive ingredients” within the “present racial crisis”?
3. What is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s analysis and solution to the racial crisis?
4. What is Malcolm X’s analysis and solution to the racial crisis?
5. Is Malcolm X’s reference to President Kennedy, Premier Khrushchev, and “nuclear explosion” relevant to his message? If so, how?

Day 3:
Play Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington on August 23, 1963. (Transcript is available if needed.)
Facilitate a discussion of the impact of this speech, especially in light of what students have learned about the events of the Summer of 1963 leading up to the speech.

Additional Sources:
“Black Nationalism.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Encylopedia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Accessed May 5, 2019. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/black-nationalism.

Carson, Clayborne. “Black Freedom Movement.” Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris. Accessed May 5, 2019. https://web.stanford.edu/~ccarson/articles/southern_culture.htm.

Carson, Clayborne. “The Unfinished Dialogue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.” Souls, vol. 7, no. 1, 2005, pp. 12–19., http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/mxp/Souls.The_Unfinished_Dialogue.pdf.

M.S. Handler, ‘Malcolm X Scores JFK on Racial Policy’, NYT, 17 May 1963, p. 14

Gertrude Samuels, ‘Two Ways: Black Muslim and N.A.A.C.P.’, NYT, 12 May 1963, p. SM14.

“The Summer of ’63.” NPR. Accessed May 07, 2019. https://www.npr.org/series/188312863/the-summer-of-63.

X, Malcolm, Alex Haley, Attallah Shabazz, M. S Handler, and Ossie Davis. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.

X, Malcolm, “[Harlem Unity Rally] (audio)” (1963). C. Eric Lincoln Collection, Audio-Visual Recordings. 92. http://digitalcommons.auctr.edu/celcav/92

—————————————————————————
1“Birmingham Campaign.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Encyclopedia. Accessed May 05, 2019. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/birmingham-campaign.

2Eskew, Glenn T. “Birmingham Campaign of 1963.” The Encyclopedia of Alabama. September 20, 2007. Accessed May 05, 2019. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1358.

3Ibid.

4“History – Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment.” United States Courts. Accessed May 05, 2019. https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/history-brown-v-board-education-re-enactment.

Kennedy, John F. “Excerpt from a Report to the American People on Civil Rights.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Report to the American People on Civil
Rights, 11 June 1963, Washington, D.C., Oval Office, White House, http://www.jfklibrary.org/ learn/about-jfk/historic-speeches/televised-address-to-the-nation-on-civil-rights.

5X, Malcolm. Letter to Martin Luther King, Jr.. 05 Aug. 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, Stanford University. http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630731-000.pdf.

6Ibid.

7
Snellings, Rolland. “The New Afro-American Writer.” Liberator, Oct. 1963, pp. 10, domesticdiversity.com/Liberator/Issues/63-10 Liberator.pdf.

8
X, Malcolm, Alex Haley, Attallah Shabazz, M. S Handler, and Ossie Davis. The
Autobiography of Malcolm X.
New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.

9 X, Malcolm. Letter to Martin Luther King, Jr..

10 “Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Accessed May 05, 2019. https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/jfk-in-history/nuclear-test-ban-treaty.

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