Celebrate & Commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist, spiritual leader, and proponent of non-violent direct action during the Civil Rights Movement in America. He worked to improve the lives of African-Americans, fighting oppression with civil disobedience and advocating for equality through systemic change.

Dr. King protested racial discrimination in federal and state laws across the country, famously organizing boycotts, sit-ins, and marches including the historic 1963 March on Washington, where on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech. In 1964, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee sparking riots and mourning across the nation. Each year, on the third Monday in January, we honor the birth, memory, and history-altering work of Dr. King with a federal holiday marking the occasion.

Continue below to learn about Dr. King’s life and legacy, the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and for resources supporting social justice at home and in the classroom. On January 15th, tune in from 1-3PM for special programming in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day during our Watch & Wonder block.

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Learn About Martin Luther King Jr.

Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Grades PreK-4
From “Freedom Summer” to “Through My Eyes,” celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with these children’s books that explore the life and legacy of the civil rights icon.

Martin Luther King Jr. | Civil Rights Leader Video

Grades 3-8
In the second half of the 20th century, racial tensions rose in the US as African Americans began to challenge unjust laws that supported discrimination and segregation. This movement found its leader in the patient and inspiring minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Watch this short video and engage in two primary source activities to explore how King’s deep-seated commitment to nonviolence contributed to the expansion of social justice in the United States, particularly for African Americans.

The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. | Civil Rights Movement

Grades 3-12
Historians reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his role in the Civil Rights Movement. 

Dr. King’s Philosophy | The King Center

Grades 6-12
Learn about the fundamental tenets of Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence, as described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, and the Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change you can enact based on his nonviolent campaigns and teachings.

Out of the Shadows | Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise

Grades 9-12
In this lesson, students view video clips from the film Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise covering the strengths and weaknesses of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as the impact of the Black Power movement on civil rights. They also explore Martin Luther King, Jr.’s controversial trip to Chicago that exposed racism and institutional segregation in the North.

Learn About the Civil Rights Movement

Achievements of the Civil Rights Movement

Grades 3-12
In this video from GPB, learn how following the 1963 March on Washington, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that ensured that the rights of all people were protected, regardless of one’s race, gender, color, or national origin.

Activism in the Civil Rights Movement

Grades 6-8
In this interactive lesson, students will learn about the historical background of racial segregation. They will also learn about a number of brave individuals and groups who stood up against segregation during the 1950s and 1960s. Students will use media, text, and images to analyze the following question: What do the stories of individuals like Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, and activists suggest about the role of citizens in shaping democracy?

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: Leadership at the March through Music and Speeches

Grades 6-12
While Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech became the most famous to come out of the March on Washington, he was by no means the only person to address the massive crowd assembled on the National Mall. Use this lesson plan to look at the other civil rights leaders and orators who spoke that day, and how effectively they conveyed their messages.

Civil Rights: Then and Now collection

Grades 6-12
While students today may think of the Civil Rights Movement as part of the distant past, it’s clear that many of the problems that fueled that fight are still with us. This collection of videos, documents, and primary sources lends context to the events and leaders that defined the Civil Rights Movement’s first three decades (1954-1985). These resources also capture the issues and activists involved in the struggle today—those making headlines, stirring debate, and trending on social media.

Dr. Martin Luther King at Gee’s Bend | Retro Report

Grades 9-12
This eight-minute video illustrates the achievements of the civil rights movement, as well as the enduring challenges facing black Americans, by focusing on the small community of Gee’s Bend, Ala., a town that attracted the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960s. The video helps students draw a line between the battles fought by King’s movement nearly five decades ago and the barriers to equality and opportunity that residents of Gee’s Bend face today. For lessons focused on the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the video serves as a bridge between the past and the present, and sets up a discussion about the unfinished agenda of King’s movement.

Social Justice & Allyship Resources

Honoring the Real Meaning of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Grades PreK-3
This month, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. — a great figure of American and Black history. The story of Dr. King might feel complicated to discuss with our children. How can your family honor this hero and his life without glossing over the hard stuff?

Race, Ethnicity, and Culture collection | Sesame Street in Communities

Grades PreK-3
Sesame Street in Communities provides parents, caregivers, and family childcare providers with support to help lay the foundations for children’s healthy development. Resources in the Race, Ethnicity, and Culture collection provide tools to help think about, ask about, and talk about race with young children, develop pride in their own unique identities, and cope with difficult race-related situations and experiences. Specific resources include content to address anti-Black racism.

Arthur on Racism: Talk, Listen, and Act

Grades K-5
Explore the importance of discussing and dismantling racism with this video from the PBS KIDS series ARTHUR. Then use the “Civics for Young Learners” and “Making Your Classroom a Safe Space” activities to help children understand their role in making the world a better place for everyone.

Is There a Right Way to Protest? | Above the Noise

Grades 6-12
Protesting is as American as apple pie. From the Boston Tea Party to the Black Lives Matter, people protest to make their voices heard. But here’s a weird dilemma. More extreme protests attract more media attention to a cause. But at the same time, if a protest is too extreme, some people might not support the protesters. What do you think? Is there a right way to protest?

Art and Social Justice collection

Grades 6-12
Many artists create work that intersects with political activism and social justice causes. Throughout history, art has been used as an accessible tool for communication, raising awareness about social issues and affecting positive change. This video collection will introduce students to artists who create work that inspires dialogue about problems faced by communities around the world, and will provide inspiration for classroom projects with a social, public or political purpose.

Watch & Wonder Programming

Tune into the Mountain Lake PBS Watch & Wonder block for special Martin Luther King Jr. Day programs celebrating and commemorating the holiday.

Monday, January 15

1 PM: New York State Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 2024

In this tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. King, New York State celebrates the people and organizations across New York State who embody the principles of America’s greatest leader for social justice, freedom, and equality.

2 PM: John Lewis: Get in the Way

Follow the journey of civil rights hero, congressman and human rights champion John Lewis. A film by Kathleen Dowdey, “John Lewis – Get in the Way” is the first biographical documentary about Lewis, an inspiring portrait of one man cast into extraordinary times and his unhesitating dedication to seeking justice for the marginalized and ignored. The film spans more than half a century, tracing Lewis’ journey of courage, confrontations and hard-won triumphs.

Tuesday, January 16

1 PM: American Experience: Voice of Freedom

On Easter Sunday, 1939, contralto Marian Anderson stepped up to a microphone in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Inscribed on the walls of the monument behind her were the words “all men are created equal.” Barred from performing in Constitution Hall because of her race, Anderson would sing for the American people in the open air. Hailed as a voice that “comes around once in a hundred years” by maestros in Europe and widely celebrated by both white and black audiences at home, her fame hadn’t been enough to spare her from the indignities and outright violence of racism and segregation. Voice of Freedom interweaves Anderson’s rich life story with this landmark moment in history, exploring fundamental questions about talent, race, fame, democracy, and the American soul.