Every January, many Americans have a day off to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This holiday allows us to honor the birthday of one of our most famous and influential Civil Rights leaders.
Born in Georgia in 1929, King fought for equality and justice throughout his life. He believed in peaceful protest as a way to bring about social change. Legal racial segregation in the U.S. ended in large part due to his work. With this holiday, we celebrate his life, his work, and take the time to reflect and honor his legacy.
This is also a great time to talk about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. While King was an important leader, there were many people who contributed to the cause including Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and many others. In addition, this is a great time to talk about what those people fought for and the events in our history that made the movement important.
A review of the movement could start with the slave trade and the devastating effects of slavery in the South. Discuss the many heroes in the abolitionist movement including those who helped many escape from the South. The Civil War resulted in freedom for the slaves and Reconstruction provided many opportunities cut short by segregationist policies. The Great Migration saw many flee to opportunities in the North and was the impetus for the Harlem Renaissance and the flowering of African American art and music. Today there continue to be setbacks and struggle within our communities and King’s birthday can be a time to talk about how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.
Finally, while children living abroad are exposed to a wide variety of world history, geography, and language experiences unavailable in the U.S., sometimes our own history is given short shrift. Families can incorporate books, stories, and activities into home life to ensure children know about their own holidays and historical leaders as well as those in the host country.
Here are five ideas for learning about King and celebrating his birthday with the family.
- Create a timeline of Civil Rights history after reading books about the topic or watching videos. History.com is a great place to find educational videos.
- Celebrate his birthday with a cake and make cards thanking him for his work!
- Learn about his “I have a Dream” speech and then make lists of personal and family dreams and goals.
- Talk about diversity and equality in the United States and in the country in which you are living. Compare and contrast the history of equality in the U.S. and in other countries.
- Give back and honor King’s commitment to service. Volunteer at a local shelter, arrange a neighborhood trash pick-up, or make a donation to a favorite charity.
Our favorite books about King include:
- For all children, Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Doreen Rappaport, is a Caldecott award winner that tells the story of his life using his original writing.
- For elementary children, I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King and Kadir Nelson, pairs King’s most famous speech with beautiful pictures
- Middle school children will enjoy Free at Last, by Angela Bull, which is a thorough biography with illustrations.
Martin Luther King, Jr., fought to end racial segregation and inspired, and continues to inspire, many Americans. This holiday is perfect for discussing the Civil Rights Movement and the impact of one of the movement’s most famous leaders.