Time: 2-3 hours

Materials: Blackboard or chart paper, chalk or markers

Handout 1, The World House

Copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

Optional: copies of the national Constitution

Setting: Middle school - Adult groups

Through this activity, participants examine Dr. King's essay entitled "The World House" to learn how his vision and commitment to action transcend US-specific civil rights issues to include human rights that affect all people.

PART A: Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.? (1 hour)

1. Brainstorm:

Ask the group what they know or remember about Martin Luther King. Record their responses on the blackboard or chart paper as two lists under the headings “Biography and “Human Rights Issues. Be sure to leave ample room on the “Issues chart to add text to the right of each item. Retain the charts for further use.

Your charts might look like this.


Was assassinated
Racial equality

Advocated non-violence
Right to vote

Worked among Blacks in the USA
Right to equal use of public services

Won Nobel Peace Prize
Right to non-violent assembly

Was a Christian minister
Right to a living wage


If participants lack information about King, you might ask them to interview elders in preparation for discussion and/or add a few important biographical facts. However, do not add to the list of issues.

2. Analyze:

Read aloud the list of issues the group has generated. Explain that rights are generally categorized in two groups, civil/political and social/economic rights. Explain these definitions and/or write them on the chart. Ask the group to determine which category each of the issues listed belongs to and mark each issue “C/P or “S/E. This list will be predominantly civil/political rights.

CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS: The rights of citizens to liberty and equality, sometimes referred to as first generation rights. Civil rights include freedom to worship, to think and express oneself, to vote, to take part in political life, and to have access to information.


Rights that give people social and economic security, sometimes referred to as security-oriented or second- generation rights. Examples are the right to food, shelter, and health care. There is disagreement whether the government is obligated to provide these benefits.

3. Compare:

Introduce and distribute the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), explaining that it is the United Nations’ fundamental document that defines human rights for all the peoples of the world. Ask participants to find articles in the UDHR that match each issue listed. Encourage participants to read aloud the article they find. Enter each on the chart.

Optional: You may wish to repeat this step using the Constitution and its Amendments. Note significant differences, if any, between the two documents.


ISSUES UDHR CONSTITUTION Articles Articles/Amendments

Racial equality (C/P) Art. #______ ______

Right to vote (C/P) Art. #______ ______

Right to equal use of public services (C/P) Art. #______ ______

Right to non-violent assembly (C/P) Art. #______ ______

Right to living wage (S/E) Art. #______ ______

PART B: From Civil Rights to Human Rights (1 hour or more)

1. Set the Context:

Explain that although most people associate Martin Luther King with civil rights in the United States, he actually had a broader vision that included all human rights and all human beings (even though the language he used was not always gender inclusive).

2. Read:

Divide participants into small groups. Give each group copies of “The World House and ask them to read it aloud together. When finished, each group should make a list of any new information they have gained about Dr. King’s life or the issues he worked for.

3. Report:

When all groups have completed their reading, ask someone from each group to present their list and add new entries to the original lists of biographical facts and issues generated in Part A, Step 1.

4. Analyze:

As in Part A, determine which of the new issues are civil/political rights or social/economic and label them. The new issues will include many more social/economic rights than the original list.

5. Compare:

Repeat Part A, Step 3, matching the issues with the relevant article(s) of the UDHR and entering the article number on the chart. Optional: Do the same with the Constitution. Note significant differences, if any, between the two documents.

6. Discuss:

Use some of the following excerpts and questions to broaden participants’ understanding of the issues for which Dr. King worked. No doubt, there will be conflicting opinions on these controversial topics.

Equality with whites will not solve the problems of either whites or Negroes if it means equality in a world society stricken by poverty and a universe doomed to extinction by war.

Why do you think Dr. King believes that racial equality is not enough for the realization of human rights?

All over the world like a fever, the great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races and lands. They are awake and moving toward their goal like a tidal wave.

Dr. King wrote these words in the 1960s. Is this “tidal wave still going on? Ask for examples that support or contradict this statement. How does this statement relate to human rights?

[T]he era of colonialism, is at an end.... The earth is being redistributed.

Do you think that power held by the so-called “western world or former colonial powers is indeed being redistributed more fairly throughout the world? Cite examples to support your view.

Among the moral imperatives of our time, we are challenged to work all over the world with unshakable determination to wipe out the last vestiges of racism.

Why is eliminating racism a “moral imperative? What progress has been made in eliminating racism in the world? In your country? In your community? What evidence is there that racism still exists?

The time has come for an all-out war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled and feed the unfed.... If they would allocate just two percent of their gross national product annually for a period of ten or twenty years for the development of the underdeveloped nations, mankind would go a long way toward conquering the ancient enemy, poverty.

Do rich nations indeed have a responsibility to use their wealth to help underdeveloped nations? What do you think of King’s suggestion for a “Marshall Plan for Asia, Africa, and South America? Does your country already contribute to the development of poorer nations? If so, what percentage of its gross national product does it contribute and how does that compare with that given by other countries? Do people have a human right to freedom from poverty? If so, whose responsibility is it to defend that right? Do rich individuals have a similar responsibility?

The well-off and the secure have too often become the indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible.

In what ways are the poor in your community treated as “invisible? When and where are poor people likely to be found? When and where would you have personal conversation and interaction with people who are poor? Do you believe that “The well-off and the secure have too often become the indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation ... in your community? In your country? What responsibility, if any, do “the well-off and secure have to those who are neither?

A final problem that mankind must solve in order to survive in the world house that we have inherited is finding an alternative to war and human destruction.

Is peace a human right? Dr. King suggests that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence is the way to end war. What do you understand by “the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence? Do you think it can end conflict on the international level? The national or community level? The interpersonal level?

Summarize the reasons that King gives for why rich nations should work to end poverty in poor nations. Do you agree with these reasons? Are they true for individuals as well as nations? How do King’s reasons relate to human rights.

1. Writing. Choose a sentence or passage from the reading and write a reflection, defending or opposing King’s position. For example:

  • Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.

  • In the final analysis the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied together. They entered the same mysterious gateway of human birth, into the same adventure of mortal life.

  • In a real sense, all life in interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keepers because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

  • We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.

2. Research. These projects might be undertaken by individuals or small groups and their results shared with the whole group.

  • Find out more about King’s views on nonviolence.

  • What people and philosophies inspired King’s ideas? Did his methods work? Why or why not?

  • Many criticized King’s nonviolence policy. Why?

  • Have nonviolent methods been used in other political crises since King?

  • How is poverty defined? What proportion of the population in your country or community is “poor?

  • What kinds of people are poor? Are they predominantly of a certain race, ethnic group, age, etc.?

  • What are some outcomes related to poverty (e.g., crime, disease, infant mortality, educational level, life expectancy)? How are these aspects of poverty reflected in your community?

  • Compare the statistics about poverty in your community, city, region, or country to those of other communities, cities, regions, or countries. Do you live in a “poor place?

  • Find out what policies and programs your country has now to help end poverty in other countries. Are these actions effective?

  • Find out what policies and programs your country or regional government is doing to help end poverty at home. Are these actions effective?

  • Find out what the World Bank and the International Monitory Fund (IMF) are doing to end poverty worldwide. Are these actions effective?

2. Taking Action.

  • Create a MLK Report Card for your community. (See Activity 7, p. 67, for ideas). Select rights concerns that emerge from group discussion, identify data to gather in your community, gather them, construct the Report Card, and distribute it in your community (local media!). Identify actions that need to be taken. Organize an action project. Use King’s birthday to launch or culminate the activity.

  • Find out what organizations are working in your community on the issues of racism, poverty, and nonviolence that Dr. King advocated. Choose one or two whose work you admire, contact them and find out how you can support their work.

  • See other activities in this manual for ways to become involved in your community.

Source: Written by Nancy Flowers, Human Rights Educators Network, Amnesty International USA.