Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Information and activities are from KRP’s The Ultimate Holiday Activity Guide from the NIE Institute.

Since 1986, the United States has observed the birth of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as a legal public holiday. It is always celebrated on the third Monday in January. This day is set aside each year to honor King, the powerful black minister from Atlanta who was the main force behind the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He was also a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1964) for leading non-violent civil rights demonstrations.

Despite his belief in peaceful demonstrations, King himself was often the target of violence. It ended King’s life at the age of 39, when an assassin shot and killed him while he supported a strike by black garbage workers in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968.

1. Even though slavery was officially abolished in 1865, Martin Luther King Jr. talked often about his desire for freedom for African-Americans. Ask students to discuss what they think King meant by freedom. Then have them cut out words and pictures from the newspaper that illustrate freedom to use on a poster.

2. Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero to many people both when he was alive and after his death. Have students look through the newspaper for a present-day hero. Then have them make a list of the character traits that make that person a positive influence. Conclude by having them find a person featured in the newspaper who would not be a good role model. Allow them to discuss their thoughts.

3. Civil rights, such as the right to free speech, are the freedoms a person has because he or she is a member of a civilized society. Ask students to imagine what it would be like to lose their civil rights. What freedoms would they have to give up? Now, ask students to look through the newspaper for a story about someone who is denied his or her civil rights. Have them discuss their thoughts in small groups.

4. Provide students copies of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” along with examples of news stories and editorials from the newspaper (see the link below for the speech.) Ask each to assume the role of reporter and pretend they were present when King gave the speech. Conclude the activity by having them write either a newspaper story about the speech or an editorial expressing opinions about what was said.

Click here to read or download Martin Luther King Jr.’s  “I Have a Dream Speech.” 

One more resource: