Sheltered by his loving family, young Martin Luther King Jr. grew up happily unaware of racism — until a callous and prejudiced neighbor opened his eyes. The "I Have a Dream" Reproducible (PDF) contains an original play that dramatizes a true episode from Dr. King's childhood, imagining how it might have started him on his lifelong crusade to end racism.
Talk About the Context
Thankfully, most children have little concept of the legalized prejudice and discrimination that was common and accepted in the United States before Dr. King's time. Explain that for more than 100 years following the official end of slavery in 1863, there were, in effect, two societies — one for whites, and one, restricted and inferior, for blacks. Black people had to go to separate schools, sit in separate sections in movie theaters and on buses, and use separate drinking fountains. “Whites only” signs hung outside many restaurants and pools. This was the society Dr. King grew up in and the conditions that drove him to crusade for equality.
Talk About the Genre
Explain that this play is a work of historical fiction, a story that is based on a true incident from history. The incident in the play is well-known, but the dialogue and some details are made up. Ask your students the following questions:
- What other works of historical fiction has the class read or seen?
- What other historical events would make interesting stories?
There are ten characters in the play. Give more children a chance to read aloud by casting new children for each scene (25 roles in all).
After Reading Questions
- Why does Mrs. Conner make Mrs. King and Martin wait until the other customers are served?
- How might Martin have felt (angry, sad, confused, helpless, frustrated, etc.)?
- Are Clark and Wallace prejudiced like their parents? (No, but they will likely learn from their parents' example.)
- Can we blame them for not playing with Martin?
- What do they lose because of their parents' prejudiced beliefs? (They lose a good friend and perhaps more friends in the future. Their world becomes narrow.)
Mack Lewis teaches third and fourth grade in Central Point, Ore., and is the author of Read-Aloud Plays: Symbols of America (Scholastic, 2003). This article was originally published in the January/February 2003 issue of Instructor.