Today I read Martin & Mahalia with my fourth graders. Martin & Mahalia is written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and his strong voice and powerful message were joined and lifted in song by world-renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. It was a moment that changed the course of history and is imprinted in minds forever. Told through Andrea Davis Pinkney's poetic prose and Brian Pinkney's evocative illustration, the stories of these two powerful voices and lives are told side-by-side -- as they would one day walk -- following the journey from their youth to a culmination at this historical event when they united as one and inspiring kids to find their own voices and speak up for what is right"
We are moving from our Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exploration and celebration into a unit on the Civil Rights Movement. This book is ideal for making the transition because it introduces the idea that there were many activists in the Civil Rights Movement. It also places an important spotlight on the role that music played in the Movement. Did I mention that it is rewarding to read aloud and stunningly illustrated?
After reflecting on the knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr. I talked a bit about the power of song and how my parents used to come into the library to talk about their experiences in the Civil Rights Movement. My mother emphasized the importance of song and how on bus rides, marches, and gatherings the songs would create a sense of community among those gathered as well as strengthen their spirits, as in Selma where the singing carried them through their fear.
But, I digress. This is about Andrea Davis Pinkney's amazing book and how it gives light to the powerful combination of Martin's oratory and Mahalia's singing.
After reading the book, I turned back to the page where Mahalia urges Martin to "tell them about your dream." I pulled a New York Times article that explores the the speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered on that day. With Mahalia's urging, Martin diverges from his prepared speech and launches into five minutes of extemporaneous speaking, five minutes that the world will never forget.
After looking at parts of the article, I showed the students a bit of this footage of Mahalia singing that day as well as a bit of this footage of her singing that day.
Then I played the first part of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech so the students can see how Andrea crafted her language in Martin & Mahalia.
I then fast forward to 10:00 into the speech. I pause around 12:15. It is clear that Martin Luther King, Jr. was wrapping up his speech in one direction pauses and takes off in another. I then played the remainder of the speech. Here's the full text from the National Archives.
It was interesting to watch the students, some of whom have seen and memorized those last five minutes of the speech and silently but energetically mouthed the words versus those who in stillness absorbed the power of speech for the first time.
This was powerful stuff. What followed was the start of a long conversation on the fight for equal rights. Stay tuned.