Dr. King frequently spoke of his strong desire for freedom. Many were confused by this expressed desire, because they believed that the African-American people had lived in freedom since the Civil War. But Dr. King defined freedom as more than the absence of slavery. He viewed a free society as a society in which all people had equal access to public places, a society in which all people had a voice in government, a society in which all people could obtain a quality education and good jobs, and much more.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines "freedom" as "the condition of being free of restraints. 2. Liberty of the person from slavery, detention, or oppression. 3.a. Political independence. b. Possession of civil rights; immunity from the arbitrary exercise of authority. 4. Exemption from an unpleasant or onerous condition. 5. The capacity to exercise choice; free will. 6. Ease or facility of movement. 7. Frankness or boldness; lack of modesty or reserve. 8.a. The right to unrestricted use; full access. b. The right of enjoying all of the privileges of membership or citizenship."
How are these definitions similar? How are they different?
The dictionary definition can be described as the denotation of the word "freedom." Denotation is the literal definition of a word or phrase. For instance, if your mother said, "Take out the garbage," the command would denote that you were to remove the garbage from the garbage can.
Dr. King's definition of "freedom" can be described as its connotation. Connotation refers to the suggested and/or understood implications of a word or phrase. To refer to the previous example, the command "take out the garbage" would connote that you were to remove the garbage from the garbage can inside your home and take it to a place outside your home where you could dispose of it properly. (If you dumped the contents of the garbage can onto the kitchen floor, you would have fulfilled the denotative meaning of your mother's command, but you would not have fulfilled the connotative meaning--and your mother would not be happy with your performance....)
Think of some other words or phrases that might differ in their denotations and connotations. Does the denotation of a word or phrase ever change? What about the connotation? What are some situations in which the connotation of a word or phrase might differ depending on the speaker or listener?
"I Have a Dream . . ."
Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is perhaps one of the best-known speeches in the world. One reason for its fame is its poignancy. It reflects the deepest sentiments of one human heart and, consequently, touches other hearts effectively.
Read or listen to portions of Dr. King's speech with a friend, parent, classmate, or sibling. After reading or listening to the speech, list as many dreams of Dr. King as you can recall. How did his dreams shape his personality? How did his dreams direct his life choices? How much of his dream was accomplished in his lifetime? How much has been accomplished since?
Now turn your thoughts to yourself....What are your dreams? Exchange dreams with your partner. Work together to brainstorm a list of three ways you can help to make your dream a reality. Remember, few people set goals too high, but countless millions demand far too little of themselves....
If you have not already done so, share your dreams with your parents. Ask them what their goals were when they were your age. Ask them what their goals are now. Which goals have they seen fulfilled? Have they since chosen not to fulfill any of their earlier goals? What kinds of goals change with age? What kinds of goals remain unchanged?
How many other people can you think of who have set high goals for themselves and fulfilled them?
If I Could Change the World...
Dr. King was a man committed to making a difference in the world around him. He wanted to see men and women of all races living peacefully with one another. Because he worked hard to make the changes he desired a reality, much of the world felt the impact of his life and work.
Today, we still need boys, girls, men, and women committed to making our world a better place. If you could change the world, what change would you make?
Remember that Dr. King's work began in his own community. If you want to make a difference in the lives of others, the best place for you to start is in your own neighborhood. Brainstorm a list of five to ten steps you can take immediately to bring about in your own community the change you seek.
One of the injustices Dr. King fought was segregation. Under segregation, laws kept blacks and whites apart. They were not allowed to attend the same schools or churches, eat in the same restaurants, drink from the same water fountains, or even use the same restrooms.
Imagine that similar laws were passed today, preventing people of different races and cultures from living in the same neighborhoods, going to the same schools or churches, working together, and even playing together. How would you feel about these laws? Why? How would such laws change your community? What percentage of your classmates would no longer attend your school? How many friends would no longer be able to attend your church?
What if your family were forced to move to another neighborhood, change schools and churches, shop at new stores, and avoid restaurants, parks, and other places you had visited before segregation? Write a short story about what this strange new life might be like.