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Teaching and Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

by Andrew Roush
martin luther king

In the pantheon of individuals who have immediate name recognition in the United States, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is surely among the most well known. The national civil rights figure rose to prominence during the 1960s as a push for civil, political, and economic rights for minorities and, specifically African Americans, consumed the national conversation.

Perhaps best known for his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Southern Baptist preacher and organizer is today synonymous with the civil rights movement and is a continued inspiration for many Americans. Since his assassination in 1968, King has become a symbol of human and civil rights in the U.S. Indeed, more than 1,000 streets are named after him, in addition to a number of schools and other civic institutions.

Accordingly, Dr. King’s birthday has been celebrated as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United State since 1983. This year, the national MLK Day of Service celebration falls on January 18.  Here are some resources to help you teach and celebrate the occasion with your learners. 

Sources of Inspiration

Whether teaching in-person or remotely, you can explore Dr. King’s work and legacy with digital resources. 

Virtual Visits

Help students understand the context of King’s life with virtual tours of the MLK memorial in Washington, D.C. and King’s childhood home in Atlanta, GA.

Modern Reflections

Since last summer, civic and political discussions across the U.S. have focused on the ongoing protests against police brutality targeted at African Americans. These protests, centered on the Movement for Black Lives and inspired by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, have reminded many of the protests led by 1960s civil rights leaders, among them Dr. King. Last summer, we shared resources to help students and teachers make sense of our contemporary political moment in a historical context. You can find that post here

Beyond this, discussions of American politics in general have become both central and tense. When teaching current news and events, especially when these issues relate to history — as politics does — can be challenging. 

This week, students witnessed troubling scenes in the news. It’s difficult for adults to process these events, and it can be just as challenging, if not more so, for young people. Teachers looking to discuss today’s political events have much to consider.  For those looking to teach the MLK holiday in the context of today’s politics and current events, consider this collection of articles from Education Week.

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