Ancient Roots, Modern Holidays for Kids - Martin Luther King's Birthday Illustration

Ancient Roots, Modern Holidays for Kids - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

For Kids: Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister, a man of faith. In his fight for Civil Rights for all Americans, whatever their race or religion or color or background, between 1955 and 1968, a period of 13 years, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled over six thousand miles. He spoke at over 2,500 rallies, wherever there was injustice and protest. Somehow he found time to write five books and numerous articles, get married and have kids. He led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world. He directed a peaceful march with 250,000 protestors on Washington, DC, where he delivered his famous speech, "I Have a Dream". He was arrested several times, assaulted several times, awarded several honorary degrees, named Man of the Year by Time Magazine in 1963, and at the age of 35, he was the youngest person ever to received the Nobel Peace Prize. Even though he was not a rich man, and the prize was over $50,000 - a big sum at any time and a really big sum in the 1960s - Martin Luther King Jr. donated his prize money to the fight for civil rights.

It all started one day, in 1955:

One day in December 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks boarded a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was tired from a busy day at work. She was tired of sitting in the back of the bus. But mostly, she was tired of the wrongness of things. It didn't make any sense. It had never made any sense.

There was a law in Alabama that required persons of color to ride in the back of the bus and to give up their seat to a white person if the bus was crowded. Why should she have to sit in the back? Why should she have to give up her seat just because she was colored?

That day, when the bus driver told her to move to allow a white person to be seated, Mrs. Parks refused. She did not argue. She simply refused to get up and move. She could have been hurt. Someone could have shoved her or hit her. No one did. The bus driver called the police. The police took Mrs. Parks away to jail.

It was not the first time someone had refused to move. But it was the first time that it was someone many people knew. Mrs. Parks had once worked as the secretary to the president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.) That was an important job. She knew a lot of people, and they knew her. They knew she was soft-spoken and gentle and kind.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. heard that Mrs. Parks had been arrested, he called a meeting at his church. A huge crowd gathered to hear what he had to say. People wanted things to change, but they were afraid. They did not want to be arrested or attacked. People shrugged their shoulders and said there was nothing they could do. It was just the way things were. Dr. King believed there was something they could do. They could boycott. They could refuse to ride the buses. That would cost the city a lot of money. The city and bus officials would not like that.

On the morning of December 5th, not everyone, but many people of color refused to ride the bus. They walked. They rode mules. Those few people with cars acted as a shuttle service, taking others to work and wherever they needed to go.

It took a long time for the boycott to work. It took 381 days.

The first change came on November 13, 1956, when the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama's laws requiring segregation on buses - requiring persons of color to ride in the back of the bus, and to give up their seat in the colored section to a white person if the bus was crowded - were illegal. At first, the Montgomery city government ignored the Supreme Court ruling. About a month later, federal orders were given to the city and bus company officials that gave them a choice - they could obey the Supreme Court's ruling or they could go to jail themselves!

Many white people were glad. They wanted things to change. But some white people were angry. During the year-long boycott, they fought back with acts of terrorism. They threw a bomb at Dr. King's house. His wife and baby daughter were inside. His family did escape, but it was a terrifying thing. Every time something terrifying happened, even when they bombed his home knowing his wife and baby daughter were inside, Dr. King met anger with love. "We must learn to meet hate with love," he would say. "We must learn to meet hate with love."

Finally, just over a year after the courageous Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a very good thing happened. A few days before Christmas, Dr. King, a black minister, and his good friend Reverend Smiley, a white minister, sat together on the front seat of a Montgomery city bus. The battle for equal rights under the law was not won. There were many battles ahead before the job would be done. But that was a most special morning.

MLK Jr. quotes:

  • Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

  • The time is always right to do what is right.

August 28, 1963, a portion of "I Have a Dream", by Martin Luther King Jr, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, to a crowd of over 250,000 peaceful marchers on Washington, along with many representatives from the media, who broadcasted Dr. King's speech around the world:

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlet path of racial justice.

Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

.... when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

April 4, 1968: On the evening of April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. He was 38 years old.

For Teachers:

Civil Rights: Segregation (Mr. Donn, Mrs. Donn, and Lin's author/artist Mom (2-3 days)

Civil Rights Movement (Donn, lessons, units) 

Let Freedom Ring - Life and Legacy