Today we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s life and legacy, as we have every year since we started this site. Over the years, we’ve shared plenty of excellent books, videos, resources, and websites to help kids understand the reason for MLK Day. And they are all still worth checking out today.
As I first did 5 years ago, I can’t think of anything more meaningful today than simply sharing his own most famous speech, in his very own words, from 1963’s March on Washington.
Because I think that for the most part, we leave so many essential lines out when we’re memorializing his speech, and lots of us never quite get past the line about Black children not being judged by the color of their skin. But there’s so much more.
Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream Speech: Full audio via Classical Media on YouTube
To me, there’s one line that seems to be the most under-appreciated, since it summarizes the entire point of the March for Jobs and Freedom:
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
Another section that jumps out to me as still so terribly resonant today:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only.
It’s worthwhile to discuss with our kids how these ideas are still in play today in America.
We may not have “whites only” signs on restrooms per se, but we still have segregated schools, widespread book bans targeting Black authors (and particularly stories about marginalized communities),“deeply embedded” racism in the workplace, and most recently, a horrific new anti-immigrant law in Texas guided by the tenets of white supremacy.
Kadir Nelson’s I Have a Dream book is another beautiful place to find Dr. King’s speech written out with beautiful illustrations
If you do anything today to honor Dr. King’s legacy, watch the speech with your kids. Hear it in his own words. Hear the response from the crowd of 25,000 people.
Then simply ask your children what they like about it. What they take away from it. What they don’t understand.
If you are a parent of white children in particular, as I am (and I know many of our readers are), I’d also suggest asking them about the passage in which Dr. King calls upon white allies, stating that many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
All it takes is asking your children, “what do you think he means by that?”
You’ll be amazed at how kids pick up things we may not have even considered ourselves, and the incredible places a discussion can lead.
If you want to read the entire text of the speech, this version via the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Institute at Stanford University is easy to read. Or download this copy from the National Archives (PDF).