What comes to mind when you think of Martin Luther King Jr.? “I have a dream…”? Civil rights marches? The Montgomery bus boycott? In the 60s, MLK inspired millions of Americans to make sweeping social change. While your children may enjoy having a day off from school, it’s important to teach them about the legacy of one of the best-known civil rights leaders in history.
Answers to your kids’ questions about Martin Luther King Jr.
Who is MLK?
Martin Luther King Jr. was a social activist who became a leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. He was a Baptist minister inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent activism. Dr. King is best known for organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, helping found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (an African-American civil rights organization), and leading nonviolent protests against segregation, including the March on Washington in 1963, where he delivered the famous “I have a dream…” speech.
What is racism?
Racism is discrimination against a person or people based on their skin color.
What is segregation?
Segregation is the separation of public spaces based on race. If you were to go to school in the segregated South of the 1950s, you may attend a different school from your peers, based on your skin color. Bathrooms, buses, and even water fountains were separated and labeled “white” or “colored.” Read here for a more in-depth discussion of segregation.
What was the Civil Rights Movement?
After slavery was abolished 100 years earlier, racism was still a major problem in America. For example, many public spaces, especially in the South where slavery had been most prominent, were segregated. In addition to everyday mistreatment, there was recurrent violence against Black people. The Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, and many others, fought against this injustice and violence. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed segregation and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or gender. In subsequent years, Congress passed more laws banning various forms of discrimination. With Dr. King’s leadership, the Civil Rights Movement encouraged persistent, nonviolent methods of protest that eventually led to legal and social changes. Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement here.
Why do we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday?
Dr. King was an inspirational leader who led significant changes in the American South with nonviolent methods. His fight for social justice serves as a model for those who recognize unfairness or pain and who want to make change. We celebrate his birthday to honor the change that he made and to acknowledge the work still required to make the world a truly equal place for all.
Dr. King was a strong speaker. Listen to the famous speech given at the Washington Memorial and ask your children or students what they think and feel after hearing his words.
Ask your child how they think MLK has impacted life today.
- Are schools, buses, and other public places still segregated?
- What would you say to Dr. King if you could talk to him today?
- If you could make the world a better place, what would you want to change?
Books to read:
Sarah Plumatillo discusses the problematic nature of an overused lesson intended to teach children the similarities between people of different races.