Years ago when I was in college, a friend and I drove from our New England schools to California. Along the way we stopped in Memphis- home of amazing barbecue, a rich musical heritage, Graceland, the Peabody Ducks, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine Motel may not have been mentioned in history books but the balcony outside room 306 is the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain and around it grew The National Civil Rights Museum.
In 2016 I went back to Memphis for the first time in years, first during my visit to St. Jude and then with my family a month ago to run the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. More important than joining me in Memphis to watch me run a race I had trained so hard for, I felt it was critical for them to visit the National Civil Rights Museum. I wanted my kids, ages 13 and 10, to better understand the historical milestones that marked the struggle for freedom and justice that continues today.
The museum is laid out like a timeline, starting with the history of slavery in America, highlighting each poignant event that was part of the civil rights movement, and ending with visitors peering into the room where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed before he was assassinated. Preserved as if he’s going to re-enter at any minute, it’s a sobering reminder that despite the progress our country has made, we still have a long way to go.
We remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday but does it have meaning for our children other than being a day off from school? Do our kids know of Dr. King’s contributions to the history of our country and how his beliefs inspired so many?
Knowing Dr. King from classroom lessons isn’t enough. Do a deeper dive to further their understanding about who Dr. King was, his beliefs about equality for all, and his impact on the civil rights movement in an age appropriate way. If you’re struggling with how to talk about Dr. King with your child and how to help them wrap their heads around what Martin Luther King Day means, start small and reflect as Coretta Scott King encouraged people to do when she King provided a vision of how the holiday honoring her husband should be observed:
“The holiday must be substantive as well as symbolic. It must be more than a day of celebration . . . Let this holiday be a day of reflection, a day of teaching nonviolent philosophy and strategy, a day of getting involved in nonviolent action for social and economic progress.”
—Coretta Scott King to The Washington Post, 1983
In honor of observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in a way that Mrs. King hoped we would do, here are resources for kids of all ages that can aid your conversation about Dr. King and topics of race, privilege, equality, and civil rights to further their education today and throughout the year.