On the third Monday of each year, Americans commemorate the life and work of an exceptional person — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK).
MLK was among the most influential figures in the African American civil rights movement during the 1960s. His leadership and rhetorical prowess were paramount to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After his assassination in 1968, there were immediate calls for a federal holiday in his name.
John Conyers, a representative from Michigan, first introduced the legislation four days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, but it took fifteen years to get the measure through Congress. Each time the bill was considered in the intervening years, it was voted down or never made it to the floor. In 1983, The House of Representatives presented President Ronald Reagan with a bill signed by six million people asking for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to become the first federal holiday (national holiday) celebrated after each new year. Finally, it was approved.
Who was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
MLK, a Baptist minister and civil rights leader from Atlanta, Georgia, believed nonviolent protests could end racial segregation. He became a household name after taking part in the bus boycott by African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. He founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 and led the 1963 March on Washington. It’s in Washington, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech — an address that resonates with people worldwide to this day. MLK was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Why do we teach children about MLK Jr.?
Teaching young people about Martin Luther King Jr. is such an essential part of their education on not only black history but American history. He is a crucial figure for those studying The Civil Rights Movement and racial segregation. He is also an example of the efficacy of peaceful protests, the power of rhetoric, and the influence of language on national and international consciousness. In 1963, he was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” and his significance remains undiminished after more than 60 years.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is much more than a day off work or school. It’s an opportunity to celebrate how far Americans have progressed towards an equal and fair society but also to be mindful of the changes that still need to be made. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the person and what he stood for — a dream of equality.
Celebrating MLK Day in your classroom
Need some ideas? We’ve got you covered!
- If you’re an English teacher, upload this transcript of the famous Dream Speech to Kami and run Text Recognition to make the text interactive. Your students can show their understanding of King’s use of rhetorical devices by annotating with Text, Voice, or Video Comments.
- Students can practice their rhetoric skills by recording themselves performing lines of the speech with Kami’s Voice or Video Comment tools. Some of King’s word choices are advanced — luckily, Kami has both a Read Aloud and Dictionary tool to define the word and assist with pronunciation.
- To add a more creative spin to this task, students could use a Kami doc to write their own speech voicing their concerns about racial inequality and the lack of social justice in today’s world.
- What about a debate? Motion: Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘dream’ has come true. Students can choose to argue for or against this motion.
- History teachers can use the Drawing tool to create a timeline and the Add Media tool to insert images or videos. Their students can then add dates and information using text boxes. The timeline could be as broad as The Emancipation Proclamation to the modern day or as focused as the life of MLK.
- For further research, an excellent resource is The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute
MLK Day is a National Day of Service (and one of only two congressionally designated in America — the other being for The September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance), which is a testament to this person’s importance and legacy. So, this January 15, be sure to wish your students Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!