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The Content of Your Character: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Content of Your Character: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Content of Your Character:
A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Student Handout


MAYA ANGELOU is Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University and one of the great voices of contemporary literature. A poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil rights activist, and the first black woman director in Hollywood. She is best know for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first book in her much acclaimed five-volume autobiography. It has been praised for its lyrical prose and powerful descriptions. This Renaissance woman is the recipient of many honors, including Honorary Doctorate degrees from more than 30 colleges and universities across the nation.

DR. JOHNNETTA B. COLE is President Emerita of Spelman College; she was the first African- American woman to head this historically black college for women. Although she endured the indignities of racial segregation growing up in the South in the 1940s, her family instilled her with deep pride in her heritage. They had already had won a position of wealth and privilege in their community despite the obstacles placed in their path. As a child, she studied the history of her people in a public library named for her own great-grandfather. After excelling academically at the segregated school she attended, she went on to earn her doctorate in anthropology from Northwestern and became a full professor. In 1987, Johnnetta Cole assumed the presidency of Spelman where she provided students and faculty with moral leadership and inspired them to commit themselves to serving others. Her belief in education as a "powerful instrument of change" has garnered her many prizes. After ten outstanding years as President of Spelman, Dr. Cole will return to teaching in Autumn, 1998, as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women's Studies and African-American Studies at Emory University.

DR. WALTER E. MASSEY is the President of Morehouse College. He was a precocious student from Mississippi who earned his degree in physics and mathematics from Morehouse College and his doctorate in physics from Washington University. He then became a full professor at Brown University and was Dean of the College in the 1970s. Dr. Massey founded a program to educate science teachers for urban schools, then served as Director of the Argonne National Laboratory. He later accepted the position of President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This extraordinary teacher - researcher - author - administrator was then appointed by President Bush as Director of the National Science Foundation, an agency charged with strengthening national research potential and improving science and engineering education at all levels. Before accepting the presidency of Morehouse College, Dr. Massey served as Provost of the University of California at Berkeley.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is the best known leader of the civil rights movement. He emerged from the quiet town of Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Most people are familiar with many of the important events of Dr. King's lifetime, from the Montgomery bus boycott, to the march in Birmingham, the "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, and his tragic death on April 4, 1968.

The objective of this program is to explore the evolution of civil rights in the postwar era and the dramatic social and political transformations that have resulted. Dr. King was a key figure in the historic struggle to extend to all Americans the constitutional guarantees of equality and freedom. The successful example of the black civil rights movement encouraged other groups -- including women, Native Americans and the handicapped -- in their campaigns for legislative and judicial recognition of civil equality.

This teleconference will explore the impact of Dr. King's life has had on this country since 1968.

Excerpts from Dr. King's Speech
Washington, D.C.
August 28, 1963

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character....

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and girls will be able to join hands with the little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers....

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope, This is the faith with which I return to the South.

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountains of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, My country, tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring. And, if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania....

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"


  1. Before the program define the following terms:

    • Civil liberties and rights
    • Discrimination
    • Due process of law
    • Quota

  2. Have you ever been discriminated against for any reason? The reason may have been due to race, religion, or gender. Or it may have been for some less obvious reason such as that you have freckles or cannot play ball very well. How did you feel? What did this discrimination say about the person who discriminated against you? Discuss this with a friend. Explore and discuss this with a partner or write about it in your journal. If you don't keep a journal, this would be a good time to start one.
  3. Have you ever defended anyone from being discriminated against for any reason? What were the circumstances? Discuss this with a friend or write about it in your journal.
  4. Brown v. Board of Education was the landmark case that ushered in the civil rights movement. Investigate this court case.
  5. Read today's newspaper and or weekly and monthly magazines for articles pertaining to civil rights in other countries such as Yugoslavia, Cambodia, China. What do these articles indicate about civil rights in these countries? Select one of these countries and track articles on it for the next two weeks. Has your opinion changed in light of new information? Why or why not?