Social JusticeHistoryCivics

What did Martin Luther King stand for?


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day doesn't have to be just a day off school for your kids. Make it an opportunity to teach them about the important man this day honors, and the ideas he believed in. Use these read-aloud Q&As to get started!

Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in 1929 in Atlanta, at a time when much of the U.S. (especially the South) was racially segregated, meaning people were treated differently based on their skin color. Lighter-skinned people had advantages that darker-skinned people didn't have, without any good reason. Some places had separate water fountains based on skin color. People with darker skin would even have to give up their bus seat to people with lighter skin, or else they could be arrested.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader who helped people take a stand against these unfair ways. He believed fighting was never an answer and always tried to solve problems peacefully. Among many other things, he is famously remembered for organizing people to not ride buses in Alabama after Rosa Parks was wrongly arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man. It was a good way to be heard without violence! When people didn't ride, it hurt the bus companies, and eventually the Montgomery buses stopped separating people by skin color.

He was also a great speaker and in 1963 delivered a very famous speech where he said, "I have a dream..." His dream was that people of different skin colors and different beliefs could happily share the world together. Today, this dream lives on, and the powerful message of peace is what we celebrate on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

What is equality?

The word equality is related to the word equal. Do you know what it means for things to be equal? When two things are equal, it's like saying they are the same. A full slice of pizza and two halves are the same. They might not look alike, but they're equal! Because they're equal (and will both make you full!) you can treat them alike.

Equality is the same idea of things that are the same being treated alike, but applied to people! Tall, short, young, old, dark-skinned, light-skinned: We may have lots of differences, but we're all the same in one really important way we're all people! Because of that, we all deserve to be treated alike. Don't you think it would be wrong to treat one person differently because of something like the color of their hair or what they like? Equality gives everyone the same fair chances. No one is left out! Equality means everyone gets respect and has the opportunity to live a happy life!

What is prejudice?

It's hard to have an opinion or an idea about something if you've never tried it. Brussels sprouts might not look or smell tasty, but how do you know unless you've tried them?

An opinion formed without any real reason or knowledge is known as a prejudice. Usually "prejudice" refers to an unfair opinion about a person or a group of people. Have you ever heard someone say "all girls are bad at sports"? That's a prejudice! Plenty of girls are good at sports, so a person who believes all girls are bad at sports is being unfair and prejudiced.

Prejudices take ideas that aren't true and can't be proven and act like they're facts. When people base their actions off prejudices, it hurts others. Let's say a store owner has a prejudice against kids. Maybe he had a bad experience with a mean kid who stole from him, or he believed someone who said all kids are troublemakers. Now he has a prejudiced belief that ALL kids cause problems. He doesn't let any kids in his shop even if they're polite and well-behaved. It probably wouldn't feel very good to be treated this way! His belief that all kids are naughty isn't fair. Everyone deserves to be given a chance and treated like an individual!

It's important to avoid prejudiced ideas, even if you hear other people using them. Stand up for what you know is right! Everybody is a unique person and deserves an equal and unprejudiced chance.

What is fairness?

You probably already know a little about fairness, like the kind of fairness that happens while playing a game. It's fair when everyone plays by the rules, but it's unfair when someone cheats. Breaking the rules gives one person an advantage over the other players. Everyone should have an equal chance!

Another type of fairness involves treating all people the same way. This type of fairness is also sometimes known as tolerance. Being fair means giving all people equal respect, equal treatment, and equal opportunities. Don't you think it would be unfair if someone said that only tall kids were allowed to have recess? Of course it would! Fairness isn't something that changes whether a person is a boy or a girl, a new kid or an old friend, an artist or a sports fanatic fairness means treating everyone the same way!

What is dignity?

Dignity means being respected for who you are and what you believe in. That's something that can be done in both big and little ways. Saying please or lending a helping hand are ways of showing dignity. Sharing your toys with others or making a donation to a food bank are ways of showing dignity. Being kind to others no matter who they are, what they look like, where they come from is a way to show dignity.

Young people, old people, poor people, rich people, people living here and all around the world, one thing we have in common is the right to live a dignified life. Not everyone knows how to show dignity. Has someone ever laughed at you because of the way you look? Has someone ever teased you or ignored you because of something you said or did? That probably didn't make you feel very good. Treating other people with dignity means we are treating them the way we'd like to be treated ourselves. When we respect others and encourage them to lead happy, fulfilling lives, we are showing dignity!

The above answers were written by Brian Griffin, Mya Kagan, and Dr. Dawn Taylor. For more on these topics and endless others, just browse or search!