Grade 7: MLK and Vietnam

This February, the Humanities curriculum for Grade 7 is focused on the Vietnam War. The United States was most involved in the war from 1959 to 1973 which coincided with the Civil Rights movement. To celebrate Black History month, students are learning about the effects of the Vietnam War in the United States: voices of protest, forms of resistance, and the strength of families and soldiers.

To open the conversation about the relationship between the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, Humanities teacher Melissa Psallidas shared the above photo of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering the speech, “Beyond Vietnam.” Students read the text to understand the reasons for King’s opposition to the Vietnam War. In the speech, King issues a moral call to action for Civil Rights activists to show solidarity with Vietnam War protesters.

To better understand the experiences of the Vietnamese, students are reading Thanhaa Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again, a novel focused on a young girl fleeing Vietnam after the war in 1975. Additionally, Psallidas added materials so that students can also consider the issues faced by black soldiers drafted to fight in the war. She shared, “It’s important that students see a broader picture when they understand this time in history.”

For many students, the Vietnam War may have felt unfamiliar or even irrelevant, but examining King’s speech helps students to understand how a war that ended 45 years ago and half a world away can connect to their own community and experience of today.