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Freedom FightersFreedom-Fighters

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the struggles of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Read, analyze, and compare two speeches or writings from Mandela and King.
  • Discuss the effect each man had on history.


  • Freedom Fighters video and VCR, orDVDand DVD player
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Resources about Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.


  1. After watching the video, review important facts about Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.: What injustice did each man fight? How did both men fight to overcome injustice in their countries? What are significant events in both men's lives? How do their actions continue to inspire people today? To discuss this last question, ask students to explain and support the following statements from the video:

    • "During his incarceration, [Mandela] had become an international symbol of resistance to apartheid."
    • "After his assassination in 1968, King became a powerful symbol in the struggle for racial justice."


  2. Next, tell the class that both men spread their message through letters and speeches throughout their lifetimes. For example, students are probably familiar with King's "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered at a march in Washington, D.C. in 1963. Explain that earlier that year, King had been arrested after demonstrating in defiance of a court order. While in jail, he wrote "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." This letter was widely circulated and became an important document in the civil rights movement.

  3. Remind students that, like King, Mandela was also imprisoned for his beliefs — although his imprisonment lasted more than two decades (1964-1990). Mandela was originally sentenced to five years imprisonment, but while serving that sentence, he was also convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela's statements during the second trial, called the Rivonia Trial, became famous in the fight against apartheid.

  4. Tell students that they will be comparing one of Mandela's important writings or speeches with one of King's. They may choose to compare King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" or "I Have a Dream Speech" with Mandela's "Statement from the Rivonia Trial," or they may wish to compare their acceptance speeches for the Nobel Peace Prize. Profiles for both men are also included below if needed:

    Nelson Mandela

    Martin Luther King, Jr.

  5. Once you and students have selected the two documents or speeches to compare, have students read them on their own a few times, highlighting important passages and noting any questions. If necessary, take some class time to answer students' questions.

  6. Ask students to write a brief summary of both documents, and then compare the two. How are they alike? How are they different? For example: What is the purpose or "call to action" in each document? What is each man's vision for the future? How did each man discuss violence?

  7. After students have written their comparisons, have a class discussion about the contributions of these two leaders. Were these two men effective civil rights proponents? If so, what qualities or actions made them effective? If not, why? How might history have been different if King had not been assassinated? How might the course of events in South Africa have been different if Mandela hadn't been imprisoned?

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points: Students were active in class discussions; demonstrated a strong understanding of both Mandela's and King's writings; wrote a thorough, engaging comparison of the two documents or speeches.
  • Two points: Students participated in class discussions; demonstrated a satisfactory understanding of both Mandela's and King's writings; wrote a clear comparison of the two documents or speeches.
  • One point: Students did not participate in class discussions; demonstrated a weak understanding of Mandela's and King's writings; wrote a vague or inaccurate comparison of the two documents or speeches.

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Definition: A policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa from 1948 to 1990.
Context: Nelson Mandela was the leading figure of South Africa's struggle to end apartheid.

civil rights
Definition: The nonpolitical rights of a citizen, especially the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Constitution.
Context: Martin Luther King, Jr. helped convince many white Americans to support the cause of black civil rights in the United States.

Definition: Something handed down from the past
Context: Today, many people are committed to finding ways to honor King's legacy.

Definition: The separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group
Context: Martin Luther King Jr. challenged segregation and racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit

This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • World History: Era 9 — Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up.
  • U.S. History: Era 9 — Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.


The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
NCSS has developed national guidelines for teaching social studies. To become a member of NCSS, or to view the standards online, go to

This lesson plan addresses the following thematic standards:

  • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Power, Authority, and Governance
  • Global Connections


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Joy Brewster, curriculum writer, editor, and consultant

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