Books to Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life with Children

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination. 50 very short years since his life was brutally cut short and what was his life’s work became his lasting legacy.

It is that lasting legacy that we commemorate and honor on this upcoming American holiday.

While it is sometimes easy for us to think of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s work as bygone history, it is important to remember that, according to the Census Bureau, approximately 29% of the population of the United States is 50 years old and above. That means that within the lifetime of 29% of Americans, in parts of this country, there were separate drinking fountains for black Americans, black Americans were not allowed to check out library books from the public library, schools were segregated, black Americans could not stay in public hotels, eat at public restaurants, or swim in public pools. The list goes on and on and on. Within the lifetime of 29% of Americans. This is not slavery-days history, this is contemporary history.

It is this contemporary history we must not ignore. In his, now famous, 1967 speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King begins by talking about the progress and success of the Civil Rights Movement up to that point. But shortly after this introduction, he turns his attention to the future and asks, “Where do we go from here?”

As we celebrate and honor the life of Dr. King, this is a question we must ask ourselves now. “Where do we go from here?”  We now live in a country quite different from the one he knew, and yet, even now, we still have so far to go towards realizing his dream. “Where do we go from here?”

We start by not being content with almost realizing the dream. Almost is not good enough. We commit to working tirelessly, sacrificially, and determinedly towards true equity and equal standing, politically, financially, and practically. We commit to teaching our children and students the truth of our collective past. We give them tools, resources, and support to bring about greater change in their generation.

We all want to live Dr. King’s unforgettable words:

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls”

In order to reach that dream, we must teach our children the truth, the truth of our history and the truth about each other. It can be difficult to know how to talk to children about these awful realities. We naturally want to shelter and protect our children from unpleasant things and preserve their innocence as long as possible. As a result, in many settings, “race” has become a new “four letter word,” a taboo subject, for any age. But this should not be the case. Racial differences are not inherently wrong, they are actually a beautiful, healthy, and completely natural part of human existence. It is our responses and reactions to those differences that are either morally wrong or right. Our discussions with our children should reflect that reality.

With all this in view, we look back and remember the life of a man who gave voice to a movement, a movement that altered the course of a nation, a nation in desperate need of change.

Here are some books to help your children or students learn more about Dr. King’s lasting legacy and the movement he helped lead.

Picture Books:

Early Readers:

Middle Grade Chapter Books:

Junior High and above:
I highly recommend just reading his speeches, besides the “I Have a Dream” speech. It is a remarkable speech and should be listened to or read in its entirety, often. But he had many other equally remarkable and memorable speeches that deserve our attention as well. My 3 favorite are “Letters From a Birmingham Jail,” “Where Do We Go From Here?” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

In his own words, from “Where Do We Go From Here?”:

What I’m saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, “America, you must be born again!” [applause] (Oh yes)

And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. (Yes)

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. (All right)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. (Yes sir)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history (Yes), and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied (All right) until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. (Yeah) Let us be dissatisfied. [applause]

Let us be dissatisfied (Well) until every state capitol (Yes) will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.

Let us be dissatisfied [applause] until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes)

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