Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy

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Essential Question: Evaluate how historical events and developments are shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.

Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy

9-10 Grade Band Text Set

A legacy is something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. The American public was rocked in the 1960’s by the assassination of a president, his brother, and a renowned civil rights leader. By examining the public reaction to their deaths, students will learn about a period of American history that still impacts American culture.

Line of Inquiry: What is the Lasting Impact of a Legacy?jfkwhp-ar7993-b (crop): martin luther king, jr. and civil rights leaders with attorney general robert f. kennedy and vice president lyndon b. johnson, 22 june 1963

Because this set consists of predominantly speeches, there is significant variation in the quantitative measures of the texts. Carefully consider the sequencing of these texts to support struggling students as they build the vocabulary and background knowledge to engage with the most complex texts in the set. By building knowledge about civil rights and eulogies over the course of the set, the aim is for all students to be able to access the complex, grade-level texts by the end of the unit.

Given the number of texts in this set, consider assigning some for independent reading as you design a unit of instruction. Develop a series of short text-dependent questions for students to answer after reading the text independently. The eulogies, as they were written to be spoken, provide an excellent opportunity for students to practice fluency. Have students divide into groups to practice reading aloud with partners, or in larger groups.

The anchor text is a eulogy delivered by Robert F. Kennedy immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 at the age of 39. Kennedy alludes to the death of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated five years earlier and was only 46 at the time. Robert Kennedy himself was murdered just two months after making this historic speech. He was 43.

Students will engage with informational texts that provide background knowledge about the role each leader played in advancing civil rights in the United States, as well as one or two eulogies commemorating their lives. The inclusion of two eulogies for one figure allows students to investigate the distinct voice of each author, as well as the approach of each to the eulogy as a form.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Text Type: Informational - Speech

By: Robert F. Kennedy

Lexile: 1220

Delivered April 4, 1968 in Indianapolis, Indiana

The anchor text is a eulogy delivered by Robert F. Kennedy immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Accompanying this text is King’s own “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

The speech announces the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. to a group of civil rights protestors and calls upon the assembled group to move forward with peace and compassion.

Why it is an anchor: Robert Kennedy had a prepared speech to deliver in Indianapolis that historical day, but changed his plans upon learning of the death of MLK. The speech is historical and provides an opportunity to explore effective rhetorical strategies.

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Text Type: Informational

By: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lexile: 1200

King, Martin Luther, Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Letter. 16 Apr. 1963. African Studies Center. University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Web. Feb. 2013.

Dr. King wrote this famous letter to fellow clergy explaining his actions which had recently been criticized by those same clergy.

Reason to include in set: Whether this set is an introduction to civil rights or part of a larger study, the eulogy and the letter are reflective, demonstrating a belief system coupled with actions. A focus for study may include comparing rhetorical styles or understanding author and purpose.

Robert F. Kennedy

Public Memorial for Robert F. Kennedy

Text Type: Informational - Speech

By: Edward M. Kennedy

Lexile: none available

Delivered June 8, 1968 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York

Just two months after delivering a speech announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy was himself assassinated.

Reason to include in set: This eulogy was delivered by Kennedy’s brother and offers many parallels in rhetorical style, suggesting further study of familiar similarities. It also provides an opportunity to compare the lives and works of both Kennedy brothers, directly relating to the line of inquiry.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights

Text type: website

Lexile: varies

The RFK Center strives to achieve Robert F. Kennedy's vision of a just and peaceful world by partnering with human rights leaders, teaching social justice, and advancing corporate responsibility.

Reason to include in set: The website offers a wealth of information about Kennedy, his life, his vision, and his impact on society. The website provides opportunity to explore the broader context of civil rights as it provides global connections. It also supports inquiry detailed the C3 framework. Students wishing to explore modern era impact of the Kennedy legacy will find current information and links to other resources at this website.

John F. Kennedy

Eulogy for John F. Kennedy

Text Type: speech - eulogy

By: Earl Warren


Warren, Earl. American Rhetoric: Earl Warren - Eulogy for John F. Kennedy.

This brief speech was delivered in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on November 24, 1963, two days after the assassination.

Reason to include in set: As a study of eulogies, this one is brief and succinct. Warren sets the tone and reflects the sentiments of a nation. Text provides opportunity to compare and contrast rhetorical strategies to other texts in the set. The speech also provides opportunity to connect historical sentiment to modern events. (Consider Warren’s statement, “If we really love this country, if we truly love justice and mercy, if we fervently want to make this Nation better for those who are to follow us, we can at least abjure the hatred that consumes people, the false accusations that divide us, and the bitterness that begets violence” in light of current racial violence.)

Eulogy to John F. Kennedy

Text Type: speech - eulogy

By: Richard Cardinal Cushing


Cushing, Richard C. "Eulogy to John F. Kennedy." Vital Speeches of the Day 1 Dec. 1963: 100-01. EBSCO

This eulogy is longer than the Warren eulogy and was delivered in a televised mass from Boston, also on November 24, 1963.

Reason to include in set: The Kennedys were devout Catholics and the ecumenical service provides a sharp contrast to the message delivered by the Chief Justice. This text provides an opportunity to compare rhetorical strategies and author’s purpose.

Culminating Activity:

  1. Compare the Baltimore riots of 1968 and 2015. Who were the major speech makers and how did their rhetoric impact public reaction?

  2. Explain the legacy each of these three leaders left and how they are honored today.

Possible Standards for instruction and assessment:

RH.1.9-10 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

RI.2.9-10 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

RH.3.9-10 Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

RI.5.9-10 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).

SL.3.9-10 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.

W. 2.9-10 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

W.7 .9-10 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

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