About Martin Luther King Jr.
A brief biography of the Civil Rights movement leader. Plus, suggestions for discussions and writing prompts
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
"Nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instrument of violence, he is not truly nonviolent."
"Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality."
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 and was ordained as a Baptist minister. While studying theology at Crozer Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, King attended a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent struggle for freedom for the people of India. Gandhi's teachings had a profound effect on the young Baptist minister. Upon graduation, King received a scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree at Boston University. There he met Coretta Scott, who was studying voice at the Boston Conservatory of Music. The two were married in 1953. They had four children.
King's involvement in nonviolent protest began in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, where he led a successful boycott of the city's buses. Over the next 13 years, he promoted nonviolence as a means for African Americans to achieve their civil rights, and was jailed several times. King also helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957.
Internationally, he was viewed as an eloquent and forceful proponent of nonviolence. Among other prizes and awards given to him, King was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Four years later, at the age of 39, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Today, King's birthday, January 15, is celebrated as a national holiday.
If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King by Ellen Levine (Scholastic, 1994)
A Nonviolent Solution: Conflicts arise among people almost everyday. Some are minor; other are more serious. Discuss possible sources of conflict between individuals or groups of people. Make a list of the situations that students generate. Then have pairs of students role-play the conflicts and the solutions. How many different nonviolent resolutions do students create?
We Have Dreams, Too: Read aloud the entire text of the "I Have a Dream" speech that King delivered in Washington, D.C., or have students take turns reading it aloud. What are the students' dreams for America? Discuss what they think can be done to make their dreams come true.
Another Man of Peace: The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and had a direct impact on the civil rights movement in America. Ask students to work in groups of three or four to research Gandhi's life and words and the struggle for Indian independence from England. Have them use the research to write a play about Gandhi.
In Honor of Dr. King: Many communities in the United States have named streets or buildings in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Have students select a public place such as a park, an airport, or a town square in which to commemorate Dr. King. They should design a statue or monument that pays tribute to the civil rights leader's achievements. Let the students present their drawings or models along with maps showing the sites they propose to the rest of the class.
Carrying on the Tradition: Although Coretta Scott was from Alabama, she met Martin Luther King Jr., in Boston, where she was studying to become a singer. Her plans changed. She married King, and they had four children together. Coretta accompanied her husband to India, endured threats and bombings, and participated in the civil rights movement. Urge students to discover more about her life. Have them create a television documentary focusing on Coretta Scott King's life. They may incorporate photographs, quotes, and maps into their script.