Subtopic: Martin Luther King Day

Grade Level: 3rd-4th

Author: Shelly Stauffer


Martin Luther King was born on January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a baptist minister and his mother was a highly respected school teacher. His parents originally named him Michael, after his father. But later his father changed both of their names to Martin Luther, after the German religious reformer (Lambert 1993). As a child, Martin enjoyed singing, riding his bicycle, playing football and baseball, and reading. He spent many hours at his fathers's church, listening to him preach, and singing in the choir. He was a very good student and he skipped grades in elementary school and in high school (Adler 1986).

Martin learned about discrimination first hand at a very young age. When he was five years old he often played baseball with the white sons of a nearby grocer. One day, when he went to ask the boys to play, their mother told him that her sons could not play with him ever again because he was black. Martin was deeply hurt (Adler 1986). When Martin was fourteen and in the eleventh grade, he entered a speaking contest in Dublin, Georgia, sponsored by the Negro Elks Society. His speech won first place. However, on the bus ride home, Martin was forced to give up his black section seat to a white person. He stood up for the ninety mile trip home (Lambert 1993).

Martin wanted to keep up the family tradition, so he decided to become a minister. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 and then went to Crozer Seminary to become a minister. It was at Crozer that Martin learned about Gandhi. Gandhi was an important leader in India. To get the British rulers of India to leave his country, Gandhi had the people protest non-violently. Martin was very impressed with Gandhi and he would later follow Gandhi's example of non-violent protests (Sorensen 1994).

On December 1, 1955, a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. She was arrested and taken to jail. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was immediately called. He had been waiting for a chance to challenge the segregation laws called Jim Crow laws. These laws made blacks use separate drinking fountains, restrooms, sinks, hotels, restaurants, and swimming pools from whites. They also had to use separate entrances to theaters, and baseball parks. Black children had to use separate playgrounds and go to separate schools. King wanted to put an end to these laws. He organized a boycott of the city buses. The boycott was very successful. King was made the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Martin Luther King, Jr. Led the fight for civil rights in the South for the next twelve years. During this time, King led many marches and gave many famous speeches. His leadership in the fight for civil rights won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 (Lambert 1993).

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. Was relaxing on a balcony when he was shot. He was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital in Memphis, but it was useless. The bullet had cut his spinal cord in two. His murder, James Earl Ray, wasn't caught until June 8th (Haskins 1992).

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work did not die with him. In 1983 Congress decided to create a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Because his birthday was on January fifteenth, the third Monday of January became Martin Luther King Day. It was first celebrated in 1986 (Fox 1989). We now take time on Martin Luther King Day to remember what Dr. King did to make the world a better place for all people.


Adler, D. (1986). Martin Luther King, Jr. :Free at Last. New York: Holiday House.


Fox, M.V. (1989). About Martin Luther King Day. Hillside, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc.


Haskins, J. (1992). I Have a Dream. Brookfield, CT: The Milbrook Press.


Lambert, K.K. (1993). Martin Luther King, Jr. :Civil Rights Leader. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.


Livingston, M.C. (1985). Celebrations. New York: Scholastic Inc.


Lowery, L. (1987). Martin Luther King Day. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.


McKissack, P.C. (1986). Our Martin Luther King Book. Chicago, IL: Childrens Press.


Sorensen, L. (1994). Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Vero Beach, FL: The Rourke Press, Inc.


*Students will recognize that prejudice and discrimination has been a problem for African Americans in the U.S.A. For many years.

*Students will be able to identify contributions that Martin Luther King, Jr. made to society.

*Students will experience discrimination in order to gain an understanding of its power.

*Students will recognize that feelings about discrimination can be expressed through poetry.

*Students will be able to describe something they can do to positively effect those around them.

Time Allotment: Approximately 2 weeks

Resources Needed:

*picture of Martin Luther King, Jr.

*Research materials (books like the ones listed as resources)

*green and yellow paper circles and pins


*butcher paper

*art supplies


A. Brainstorm. Ask the students what they know about how African Americans have been treated throughout American History. Write their answers on the board.

B. Mini-lecture. Explain that for many years African Americans were slaves and that even after they were freed, they did not have the same rights as whites. Many people worked to get blacks equal rights. Show students a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. Explain that Dr. King worked for civil rights, the basic rights and freedoms of citizens.

C. Group Research. Divide students into groups. Have each group research a specific time period in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life. For example, childhood, college, years in seminary, etc. Provide each group with books, such as the ones listed as resources. Have the school librarian help direct the students to additional, helpful information. In their research, have the students answer the following questions.

-What most impressed you about Martin Luther King, Jr.?

-What event(s) stands out in your mind?

Have each group share their findings with the class.

D. Simulation. Give half of the students a yellow circle to pin onto their shirts, and the other half of the student's a green circle to pin on. Tell the students that when they go out to recess, the students with yellow circles may only play with other students that have yellow circles, and green circles may only play with other green circles. Also, section off a large portion of the playground that only those with yellow circles may play in. Tell those with green circles that they must always let those with yellow circles go ahead of them in lines. After a few hours, bring all of the students together and discuss how they felt during this activity. Discuss how it relates to how the African Americans were treated. Ask the students if they think anything had improved since Dr. King was alive.

E. Poetry. Tell the students that one way to express your feelings is through poetry. Give the students the poem, "Martin Luther King Day." Read the poem together and discuss its meaning. Have students memorize the poem and recite it to the class when they are ready. Have students write their own poems, expressing their feelings about discrimination or Martin Luther King. Post the poems on a bulletin board.

F. Integrating Art. Ask the students what they can personally do to make a difference in the way people are treated. Brainstorm ideas and write them on the board. Have each student pick an idea. On several large pieces of butcher paper, have the students make collages of what they can do to make a difference. Students can draw, color, paint, paste or write their ideas. This allows students to let individual differences come together to create a whole, integrated poster.

G. Open Discussion. After all of the activities have been completed, ask the students what they have learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. Ask them if they think it is important for us to recognize his birthday, and if so, why. Listen to their responses to see if your objectives have been met. Make sure all of the students are called on to respond during the discussion.


Research findings will be assessed.

Poetry memorization and writing will be assessed.

Collages will be assessed.

Participation and responses during discussions will be assessed.




The dream

of Martin Luther King

will happen

in some far-off Spring


when winter ice

and snow are gone.

One day, the dreamer

in gray dawn


will waken

to a blinding light

where hawk and dove

in silent flight


brush wings together

on a street

still thundering

with ghostly feet.


And soul will dance

and soul will sing

and march with

Martin Luther King.


(Livingston 1985)

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