Why Do We Celebrate MLK Day?

Why do we celebrate MLK Day

History is funny. Yesterday is history – last week is history – but so is 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and 1000 years ago.


The nature of history is having a retrospective view on an event or period in time. But naturally – we don’t all look back at historical moments through the same lens. 


Many classroom educators have had the personal realization when teaching topics such as September 11th or the election of President Obama that these moments in history have a different connotation to us than to our students who were not yet born or too young to remember. But it is our job as educators to give our students the lenses necessary to understand these moments, their impact, and why they deserve to be remembered and studied.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his speech on the mall of the capital 60 years ago. To our students this may fall in the same bucket at World War II or even the Revolutionary War – for them, it falls into the “Before Me” era. 


How can we acknowledge history in our classrooms in a way that lets students see through our lens – or our parents’ and grandparents’ lens – to understand history on a deeper level?


Our goal at thinkLaw is to get educators questioning their practices and prioritizing truly valuable work. We don’t want to check a boxes each January that looks like this:


  • Decorate bulletin board for MLK Day
  • “I have a dream” take home craft
  • Extension work assigned for students to take over long weekend


If we question our practices around MLK Day – we will surely discover that there is more we can do to honor Dr. King and his contributions to our modern society. After all, how does a day off of work relate to the amount of work and sacrifice Dr. King put into creating change and breaking what needed to be broken?


Why do we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day?


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an American religious leader and civil-rights activist. He was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a baptist minister and social activist who was a leader in the United States civil rights movement during the mid-1950s. He is most known for his “I Have a Dream” speech given in Washington, DC in 1963. Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. His birthday was approved as a federal holiday in 1983 and is celebrated each year on the 3rd Monday of January.


Questions to ask and Discussions to spark with your students on MLK Day


Why do we get a day off of school or work for MLK day?
Do you think most people actually honor Dr. King on MLK day?
What things should we do  on MLK day to honor Dr. King? Why?
Why do you think it took nearly 20 years after Dr. King’s death to have a holiday in honor of him?
 Based on what you’ve learned about the US during the 1960’s, what do you think most people thought when Dr. King was assassinated?
Who is another historical figure that you think deserves a day of honor? Why do you think they deserve it?Who else that contributed to the US Civil Rights movement do you think deserves a day of honor? Why?
Imagine 100 years from now, you have a day of honor recognizing your great accomplishment. What would your accomplishment be? How do you wish people would ‘honor’ you on that day?
 What cultural or society changes do you think are necessary? What can you do on MLK day to contribute to that change? What can you do every day to contribute to that change?
What criteria should we use to determine if someone should have a day in their honor? Who should get to decide who’s honored with a special day? 

For more critical thinking strategies that can be seamlessly implemented in your current lesson plans, join our Facebook group for educators!

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