People usually first learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. because they get a day off from school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the third Monday of every January. The man, Martin Luther King, Jr., did a lot to earn his own holiday!
He was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. Throughout his life, much of the United States, especially southern states, was racially segregated. That means that people were divided up based on the color of their skin. People with lighter color skin were usually treated better than people with darker color skin, with out any good reason for it. In some places, there were separate water fountains for people with different skin colors. People with darker skin would even have to offer their seats up to people with lighter color skin on buses, or else they could be arrested.
In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, a woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and she was arrested. Can you imagine being put in jail just because you didn't want to give up your chair to someone else? This upset a lot of people, and Martin Luther King, Jr. decided to do something about it! He asked people not to ride buses until all bus riders were treated equally. If people didn't pay the bus fares, it would hurt the bus companies. It was an effective way to get people's voices heard! It wasn't easy though. It took over a year for the Montgomery buses to stop separating people by the colors of their skin.
Martin Luther King, Jr. always tried to solve problems with non-violent efforts. He believed that fighting was never an answer. 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. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Keeping the Peace
Martin Luther King, Jr. believed strongly that non-violence was the way to solve problems. Instead of punching or kicking, he would organize protests to show people his messages. Why do you think non-violence is better than trying to hurt someone?
Think about how you solve problems. What are the most effective ways? Why do you think they're better choices than kicking or punching?
Eventually laws were passed making segregation by skin color illegal, but sometimes laws are more easily changed than people's minds. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968 by a person who didn't share his beliefs. But his dream lived on, and his powerful message of peace is what we celebrate on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.