This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about Martin Luther King, Jr. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Martin Luther King, Jr. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.
This movie explores the life and work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he helped bring change to a challenging time in U.S. history. Segregation, racial discrimination, and prejudice can be tough, painful, and confusing concepts for some children, and we recommend pausing the movie throughout and holding plenty of discussions as well as completing the features together. We also recommend watching the Rosa Parks movie to help support and extend this topic.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. Help children understand that during that time in the southern states, whites and people of other races and cultures were not treated equally. African Americans were often mistreated just because of the color of their skin, and blacks and people of other races were not allowed to attend the same school as white students. Review with your children that segregation is the separation of people based on race, culture, religion, or other reason. Public transportation, restaurants, businesses, bathrooms, and even water fountains were segregated. The facilities and services offered to African Americans and people of other races and cultures were often inferior to those offered to whites.
When Martin Luther King, Jr., was a child, several white neighbors refused to let him play with their children because he was African American. The discrimination he repeatedly experienced in his youth inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak out against injustice. He attended Booker T. Washington High School and quickly proved to be an engaging public speaker. He won oratory awards and was known for his sharp debate skills. He skipped two grades before enrolling at Morehouse College. After graduating, he received his doctorate in theology at Boston University. Explain to children that we call him Dr. King because he went to school to study a specific subject and earned his doctorate, not because he was a medical doctor. Later, Dr. King became a reverend, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He listened to members of his congregation and the community at large about the unfair treatment of African Americans and injustice. He began organizing the community to protest inequality.
On December 1, 1955, a woman named Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat to a white person. She was arrested and put in jail. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped organize community members to boycott the Montgomery bus system. Explain to children that during a boycott, people refuse to do business with someone or something. Thousands of people refused to ride the bus and crippled the finances of the Montgomery bus system, whose ridership was mostly African American. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted over a year, until finally the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was against the Constitution. Soon after, Freedom Riders rode on interstate buses into the segregated South to test laws and make sure segregation was not practiced.
Soon after the boycott, Dr. King and several church leaders came together to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that would fight for equal rights in a peaceful, non-violent way. Dr. King was influenced by the works of Mahatma Gandhi, who used non-violent acts of civil disobedience to bring social justice. Members of the SCLC organized community members in peaceful protests, including boycotts, marches, pray-ins, and sit-ins. Remind children that a sit-in is a form of protest where people sit and refuse to move or leave. Protestors were often mistreated, but they held steadfast and refused to leave or fight back with violence.
In 1963, Dr. King helped organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Hundreds of thousands of people from different cultures gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall. There Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. We encourage you to look up the full text of his speech and share it with your children. You can even listen to audio recordings of his speech on the Internet. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Discuss the message Dr. King delivered in his speech and how it moved, persuaded, and inspired thousands of people, and continues to do so today.
Dr. King was arrested several times for protesting, and several threats had been made on his life. Still, he stood up for his beliefs and organized protests and spoke at rallies. Then on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee when he was shot and killed. Authorities arrested James Earl Ray for assassinating Dr. King. Help children understand that Dr. King stood up for his beliefs and was determined to bring change and justice. He met an untimely death but his legacy still lives on. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday of January every year. It is a day when people can celebrate his life and beliefs and honor his memory. Let Dr. King’s life be an inspiration to your children and help them realize that big changes can be made with determination, hard work, and strength.