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House on Mango Street

Additional Projects/Activities III   

  1. Critically examine a possible parallel between Martin Luther King, Jr., and someone else many believe is currently targeted by the U.S. government, Mumia Abu-Jamal. 

    a.       What do students think of the following statement?: Martin Luther King may have been silenced with the complicity of the FBI in 1968 and then had nearly all of his words outside of a few lines in a 1963 speech erased from public memory. 

    All of the preceding assignments on King may have led students to conclude that this is a true statement.  Still, they could look for evidence to refute it at this point.  Or they may move on to part “b” and consider whether the same thing may have happened to another public figure today.

    b.      What do students think of this statement?:  The media, prison system and law enforcement organizations have censored Mumia Abu Jamal. 

    On one hand, there have been occasional stories in print and broadcast media about Mumia Abu-Jamal.   On the other, despite the widespread support for Abu-Jamal that has made his case the most renown and controversial of death penalty cases in the world today, these stories are extremely rare and always refer to him as a “convicted cop-killer.” And despite his prolific writings published in several books, none of his work can be found in mainstream media.  Commentaries by him that were to be broadcast by National Public Radio were cancelled before they had a chance to be aired, under intense pressure from the right wing, including the Fraternal Order of Police. 

    Students who read or hear a few commentaries by Mumia Abu Jamal may have a similar realization to what they may have experienced when reading some of Martin Luther King’s buried speeches and writings.  That is, how can one seriously consider the claim that the federal government would want to kill King or Abu Jamal in order to silence them, if one does not know of any of their specific ideas?    Once students see what King actually spoke about, that he was moving in a revolutionary direction, the suspicion of federal governmental complicity in his death might make a little more sense.  The effect of reading some of Abu-Jamal’s writings for the first time may have a similar effect, in addition to humanizing somebody known only as a “convicted cop killer.” 

    • Students could read something by Abu-Jamal (e.g., “St. Martin the Militant”) and/or something about him (“All Things Censored,” by Martin Espada) and then consider the claim by Abu-Jamal’s supporters that the government sees him as enough of a threat to want to kill him.    Do students agree that this is a possibility?  Do they see a parallel between Mumia Abu-Jamal and Martin Luther King?  Why or why not?  You could remind students that many people, especially opponents of Abu-Jamal, would dismiss such a parallel as absurd.  They would argue that Martin Luther King was a much more influential leader and was never charged with killing anyone.  It’s important that students analyze this possible parallel critically and be able to consider these (and other) counter-arguments.  Of course, to thoroughly investigate this question would require becoming familiar enough with Abu-Jamal’s case to consider the possibility that he was framed, or, at least, was denied a fair trial.

      Students who do see a strong parallel and want to do something could write letters to newspapers expressing their view on the subject.

    • Students could also look for information on Mumia Abu-Jamal in their U.S. History textbook.  California recently adopted new textbooks for social studies, so the books are likely to have been published in 1999 or 2000.  Again, since Abu-Jamal’s case is considered by many to carry the political significance of the Sacco and Vanzetti case or case of the Rosenbergs for our time, one might expect to find at least a mention of it in a current U.S. History textbook.  Students can do an analysis of their textbook’s treatment – or its exclusion -- of this case.  The difference between how the book deals with the Sacco and Vanzetti and the Rosenbergs on one hand and Abu-Jamal’s case on the other, may serve as the basis for discussing the difference between how textbooks deal with ongoing political controversies, compared to how they address those more “safely” distanced by time.  Another question to investigate is this: Do textbooks ever dare to challenge the version of history for which a consensus exists among leaders of the two dominant political parties and/or corporate media?
Teacher's Guide
Essential Questions
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Additional Projects/Activities I
Additional Projects/Activities II
Additional Projects/Activities III
Additional Projects/Activities IV
Transcript of TV Reports
Michael Eric Dyson
  Materials for Other Activities
Instructions for Essay on King's Giant Triplets
Who Killed Martin Luther King?
St. Martin, The Militant
All Things Censored
Native American Resistance
Day Of Shame
Samples Of Student Work

Urban Dreams
OUSD Curriculum Unit
Hidden In Plain Sight -
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s
Radical Vision
Subject: U.S. History
Grade Level: 11th

Lesson Plan Author:
Craig Gordon
Organization: OUSD