Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and it may seem that I’m late writing about it, but I spent the whole week reading great stories about the Civil Rights Movement to my students.
The third grade students really enjoyed the story of MLK’s childhood, written by his sister Christine.
Martin, or M.L., Christine and their younger brother A.D. were good kids, but they played some great pranks.
Christine King Farris tells a funny story about how she and her brothers used to dangle a fur stole in front of unsuspecting passersby, and a few others. My students loved learning that M.L. Was a kid just like them. The book takes a sadder turn when Christine explains how the boys lost two very good friends, simply because they were white. M.L. turned to his mother for an explanation:
Because they just don’t understand that everyone is the same, but someday it will be better.
Mother Dear, one day I am going to turn this world upside down.
Christine tells the only firsthand account of Martin’s childhood and how it led him to his ultimate path, changing the world. My students loved this book, and were quite interested to hear that Christine King Farris is still alive and is in her 90s.
The Civil Rights movement was more than just MLK and his speeches and marches. The first grade read a book about a little boy who sees firsthand the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.
The boy and his mother are already at the back of the bus on this fateful day. He tells how Mrs. Parks is at the front and how she quietly refused to move. The boy describes the feeling of everyone on the bus being angry, maybe just at Mrs. Parks, or maybe at all the colored riders. (I use that term because the boy uses it. I did explain to kids that different words were used at different times, but they have fallen out of style, especially if they develop a negative connotation.) By the end of the book, the boy who started out thinking he needed to hide, now feels a new inner resolve to never let anyone make him feel that way again.
I had not originally planned to read a Civil Rights book to second grade, but at the last minute, I decided on I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. from Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series.
This book has a fun side, with Martin always wearing his suit and mustache, even as a child. It spans his life, telling how he followed the teachings of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi. The kids were excited to learn that I have biographies of Gandhi and Rosa Parks from the same series. As I’ve written about before, this series has a fun comic style that really draws kids in.
I did not read the next two books to classes, but I would consider adding them next year:
My students were shocked to learn that children were not exempt from mistreatment. Ruby Bridges has rocks thrown at her (and worse), the children trying to attend high school had fire hoses turned on them as well as attack dogs, and children like Audrey Faye Hendricks were arrested and jailed just for wanting equal rights.
The Civil Rights Movement wasn’t just for African Americans. At the time, women in America had to fight for their rights and disabled citizens were treated as lesser beings. This great movement had amazing leaders like MLK, who gave their lives to bring necessary changes to our country.
We are still a nation in the process of changing. Today we hear, on a regular basis, debates about the rights of the homosexual – LGBT – and transgender citizens. We also hear about immigrants and how they are not always welcomed in this great land, built on the idea of coming to America to live the “American dream.”
I hope I have helped inspire my students to do their part to turn this world upside down.