What You Need to Know To Discuss Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Your Kids
Our Guest Contributor is Kelly Wickham of MochaMomma
There’s a plethora of things I hope to teach my own children, but as an educator for the past 20 years I am committed to teaching as a way of life. There are things I hope to teach my students, too, and as the years continue on I am realizing that I have an almost desperate need to pass on things to them that I learn myself. Mark Twain once famously said “Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned” and that is true in every sense of his words. For instance, when I step foot into an Algebra classroom it takes a moment for me to remember how to do those problems and by the end I have a forehead-smacking moment of I knew that already!
Every year, when we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I find myself re-learning things I already knew and finding new information as I traipse down the rabbit hole that is Google. That lead me to thinking about what it is we really need to know about Dr. King when we’re teaching our children and, in my case, students. If you’re wondering about where to start when talking to your children about this larger-than-life man in American history, who accomplished so much for our country, here are some jumping off points.
1. Honoring a day for Dr. King took decades. The campaign to create Dr. King Day as a national holiday was first introduced in 1968 but wasn’t observed as a matter of law until 1986. It took until 2000 for it to become recognized by all 50 states. Younger children will be able to understand this concept, but older children can research just what it took to finally make this a reality. Arizona, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Mississippi held off as long as they could. Even in Utah it was known as “Human Rights Day” until 2000, adding to the controversy of observing a day in honor of Dr. King.
2. Dr. King won a Grammy Award. The award was presented posthumously in 1971 in the category of Best Spoken Word album for Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam. Dr. King is considered one of the best orators of all time, but was also a passionate manifesto writer and poet. After winning the “Man of the Year” spot in Time magazine, he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and donated his winnings of over $50,000 to the Civil Rights Movement.
3. He wasn’t really popular during his most famous speech, I Have A Dream. Though Dr. King was well known to everyone from politicians to the common man hoping to get a union job, only 23% of Americans supported him when he marched on Washington during the summer of 1963. His powerful speech helped move the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, ultimately, society forward. Dr. King gained enough momentum in the Civil Rights Movement that even his assassination in 1968 didn’t prevent it from continuing.
4. MLK Day is the only federal holiday that honors a private citizen. Of all the holidays we observe federally in the United States, there are only three holidays reserved that honor actual people: a former President (George Washington), an explorer (Christopher Columbus), and Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How much change would you have to help make as a private citizen to have that honor bestowed on you? Due to the work he did to further the cause of Civil Rights, President Clinton signed federal legislation into law and declared a national MLK Day of Service in 1994. In it, he put out a call to citizens to take action in their communities as volunteers.
5. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t finish high school. As a child, Martin was very bright and even skipped two grades in school. Yet, he pursued education passionately and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at the age of 15. He continued his education at Crozer Theological Seminary and earned a Ph.D at Boston University. It’s ironic that while we consider him such a powerful speaker he once took a class in Public Speaking while at Seminary and earned a “C.”
6. We still have much to learn about Dr. King and won’t know it for another 14 years. In 1977 a district judge ordered all known copies of the recordings and transcripts of the FBI’s electronic surveillance of Dr. King to be sealed. J. Edgar Hoover was so afraid of Dr. King’s power that he considered him a threat and a Communist and gave the orders to have him taped. To this day, they are held in the National Archives and sealed from the public and access won’t be granted until 2027.
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