In preparation for today's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we published a collection of three vocabulary lists and one worksheet related to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Check them out here.)

The lists contain words associated with the civil rights movement, such as segregation and manaclebut they also contain more commonly-used words not linked to civil rights in any way. At first glance it might seem arbitrary to learn these words in the context of King's speech. But in fact, a close look at even one word on the list can shed light on the power of King's language and help us to understand the importance of civil rights in new ways.

Take oasiswhich King used in his "I Have a Dream" speech. Our "I Have a Dream" Vocabulary List shows both the definition of the word in the sense that King used it and the line from the speech in which it appeared.

Learn this list and you'll encounter a variety of questions on oasis, introducing first the literal defintion of oasis: "a fertile tract in a desert where the water table approaches the surface." 

Then you'll see the figurative definition of oasis, "a shelter serving as a place of safety or sanctuary."


Armed with this fresh clarity on oasis, you can now return to King's speech, and appreciate how he knitted the literal and the figurative together, using sweltering and heat to conjure the literal oasis one might encounter in the desert and then linking that concrete image to the figurative concept "an oasis of freedom and justice." With deft precision, he communicates the intensity of the civil rights agenda while keeping his listeners on their toes.

This glimpse into the way King's speech brought the emotional reality of the March on Washington to life show how learning just this one word of the 30 on the "I Have A Dream" list can make a historic and important document more relevant and fresh to our ears. Only 29 more to go!