Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is almost here--January 19th. The Civil Rights leader would have turned 86 this year if he were still alive. Who can't help but wonder what Dr. King would have thought, and eloquently said, about our first African American president serving two terms in the White House?
How would Martin Luther King explain our nation's past of slavery, legal racism, and institutional segregation to today's young kids? This is something I pondered while writing What Was Your Dream, Dr. King? It's a question-and-answer book, and it reminded me of how tough it can be to answer kids' questions on this topic. One student question I'll never forget was during an assembly years ago. After giving a presentation about the underground railroad to fourth and fifth graders, a boy raised his hand. "Why were the black people slaves?" he wanted to know. To him, all the stories of plantations, whippings, and escapes were from a distant time, like ancient Egypt. I always think about that boy's painfully simple question when writing history now. Events and eras look very different to children. And their innate sense of fairness makes explaining historical injustices a real challenge!
|A tough question to answer...|
Books can help. They immerse kids in a time and place, allowing them to realize for themselves what life was like in the past for different peoples—including African Americans during segregation. Books are gateways into the lives of others, after all. Joy Fleishhacker's recent roundup for School Library Journal are good examples: "Great Books for Celebrating Martin Luther King Day."
If you're looking for a classroom activity for students to honor the holiday, there's nothing more appropriate than reading and/or listening to Dr. King's most famous speech. This August will be the 50th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Below are a page of writing prompts you can reproduce for students. They will help kids think about why and how Dr. King imagined a different future, and explore what sort of world they hope the future will be.
Weblinks to Dr. King's “I Have a Dream” speech:
- Listen to the speech via Stanford University’s King Research and Education Institute
- Read the speech via Huffington Post
- Download a transcript of the speech (PDF) via the National Archives
- Watch a video of the speech on YouTube