Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia and lost his life to an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee on April 14, 1968. He was born Michael King (named for his father), but when the family visited Germany in 1934, Martin’s father had both of their names changed to Martin Luther in honor of the protestant church leader. It appears that this “renaming” was prophetic, as King became a clergyman, and then went on to become an activist and civil right movement leader. King was also noted for using the same nonviolent methods that were used by Mahatma Gandhi in India in its revolt against the British Empire.
Probably King is best remembered for his iconic “I have a dream” speech, given in 1963 in Washington D.C. King advocated that America should become color blind and value people for the “content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. This speech established King’s reputation as an outstanding American orator. King won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end segregation and discrimination based on race, through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. After his death, King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. A federal holiday was established to honor King in 1986.
What is it that your students could do to honor the memory and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Here are some things you might consider doing:
Community Service Project
• Neighborhood clean-up
• Painting addresses on the curb in front of homes where they don’t exist
• Painting a room at a homeless center
• Working with a business partner to collect books for children who do not have books at home
• Sending letters to servicemen and women
• Choral reading of King’s “I have a dream” speech
• Songs that have lyrics about the civil rights movement
• A play reenacting King’s life
• Artwork depicting King’s work
Working with your staff and youth you will be able to come up with many other ideas. Take the time to read about King’s life, learn about his methods, and discuss what the United States would be like today if King had not led the way to a different way of interacting with one another.