Martin Luther King’s Death Helps Birth Diversity Education Techniques

Forty-three years ago yesterday, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. I’ve written about Dr. King several times before, like when audio of a speech long thought lost was discovered and restored in 2010. I often go back to his Letter From Birmingham Jail and his sermon The Drum Major Instinct. They are rich sources of inspiration, and I encourage you to click both those links and read or listen without leaving this page.

January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968
January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968

Since I’ve covered a lot of ground on Dr. King, I’d like to offer something that began as a result of his assassination. Frustrated by the flatly bigoted way that television news reported on Dr. King’s death, third grade teacher Jane Elliott began teaching her all-white students in Riceville, Iowa about racism and bigotry by segregating them into brown-eyed and blue-eyed groups for a few days.

That groundbreaking exercise was explored two years later in the ABC special The Eye of the Storm, and later in 1985 with the PBS Frontline documentary A Class Divided, which pulled pieces of the earlier special and looked at what those students had to say 16 years later and followed Ms. Elliott in her role as the foremother of corporate diversity training, a role that she continues today.

The entire video of A Class Divided is embedded below, courtesy of PBS. Please find an hour to watch it today, 43 years after it began. It’s a fascinating idea with surprising and sometimes unintended results.