Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s. Commitment to Social Justice

As we reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this year, it’s important to help students consider his legacy and draw parallels to today. While his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in August 1963 is seen today as a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement and one of the most influential speeches in history, there is so much more to King’s legacy. When celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we should reflect further and dig a little deeper to help connect the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the current issues facing America and the world. 

In collaboration with the WorldStrides Black Organization for Leadership & Development (BOLD), the WorldStrides Curriculum & Academics team explored resources and lessons that help students learn more about King and the multitude of ways he influenced the Civil Rights Movement. We encourage you to look through the links and lesson plans below and consider how you can incorporate these ideas into your curriculum. 

  • Teaching Tolerance has a few articles on how teachers can connect King, the racism he resisted, and the violence we observed in the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol. Additionally, there is a vast library of lessons and additional resources on teaching about King and the Civil Rights Movement.  
  • Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute has resources and lesson plans about King’s life and the Civil Rights Movement. Full of resources, including papers, speeches, and other writings, they focus on his ideas as well as look at the work of others involved in the Civil Rights Movement. The lesson plans for Letter from Birmingham Jail encourage students to take a closer look at King’s response to white clergy and others who didn’t fully understand his nonviolent perspective. The lesson plans for King’s World House ask students to think about diversity while learning strategies that foster inclusion.  
  • The New York Times has great resources on how to connect King’s messages to more current topics. While it was published during the 50th anniversary of his death in 2018, the activity titled “How Do His Words Resonate Today?” asks students to connect his words to current events and pop culture references. “Protesting Injustices in Our World” looks at recent protest movements as a means to connect with the Civil Rights Movement.  
  • Help students draw connections to the Black Lives Matter movement by looking at some of the more radical ways King advocated for social justice. A few resources are the Teaching Tolerance article, Teaching About King’s Radical Approach to Social Justice, or The Washington Post article, What Martin Luther King Jr. would think of Black Lives Matter today. King recognizing allyship and building resources to create a more disruptive influence to evoke change can be looked at further by this lesson from Stanford University – Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X: A Common Solution?  

Although we are drawn to the third Monday of January to reflect on King’s work, it’s also important that this, and the work of countless other Civil Rights activists, is taught throughout the year. For educators, and anyone interested in learning more, consider listening to the Teaching Hard History podcast, looking at the resources from Civil Rights Teaching, or watching the webinar by our teammates at Brightspark by WorldStrides, Approaching Civil Rights, Diversity, and Inclusion in Your Curriculum and Your Classroom, which may help shape how you look at teaching the Civil Rights Movement. 

Thanks to our BOLD colleagues for their assistance in writing this blog post. 

Article written by Erin Blair

Erin Blair
Erin Koster Blair serves as a Senior Manager of Academic Affairs for WorldStrides. She holds a MA in History and a BA in History and American Studies. Her interests are in immersive career exploration opportunities and social emotional learning. Ms. Blair was a high school social studies teacher and she has worked in museum education and at summer camps.