Homeschool Unit Study: Martin Luther King, Jr. Facts
Learning about important people in history helps students learn about the past and how things used to be, as well as discover how so many brave individuals helped improve and bring about positive change in the world we live in.
This week, we celebrate the birthday of one such person. Martin Luther King Jr. became one of the most well known leaders of the Civil Rights Movements in the 1950s and 60s. This unit study covers various aspects of his life’s work, how he inspired others, and how he has and continues to be recognized today. If you are incorporating Martin Luther King Jr. lesson plans into your curriculum this week, your homeschoolers will benefit from these additional learning opportunities.
Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline
1929King was born on January 15 in Atlanta, GA.
1948Graduates from Morehouse College, a historically African American college in Atlanta.
1951Graduates from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.
1953Marries Coretta Scott.
1955Receives a Ph.D. from Boston University. The bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama begins.
1956Montgomery bus system ends segregation.
1957King is named president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which focuses on advancing the rights of African Americans.
1958King’s first book is published, “Stride Toward Freedom.”
1963King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial.
1964King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
1968King is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
1986Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated for the first time in the U.S.
2011The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opens in Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King Jr. Fast Facts
- Martin Luther King Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His birth name was Michael, but he was later renamed Martin.
- He studied theology and received his Ph.D. in 1955 from Boston University.
- The holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. was first observed in 1986. It is celebrated the third Monday in January. For the first time in the year 2000, it was celebrated in all 50 states.
- In the U.S., there are approximately 900 streets named after Martin Luther King Jr. in 39 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Eleven cities have freeways named after him.
- Outside the U.S., Brazil, Israel, and Senegal have streets named after him.
- Martin Luther King Jr. gave over 2,500 speeches during his lifetime and wrote 5 books.
- King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
- He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35.
- He was assassinated April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement took place in the U.S. from 1954-1968. Because African Americans didn’t have the same rights as white citizens, the goal was to gain equality by ending segregation and discrimination. Civil rights activists fought and protested for equal opportunities in education, employment, housing, and the right to vote.
Martin Luther King, Jr’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement began in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama. On what would be a catalyst moment, Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. This event prompted the head of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to reach out to King to help lead the boycott of the bus system in Montgomery. The boycott lasted over a year, but finally, in December of 1956, after legal action against the city ordinance, Montgomery desegregated their bus system.
Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement with these Elementary Social Studies Lesson Plans
In the years that followed, King continued to peacefully deliver thousands of speeches and lectures, organize events, and urge the public to use nonviolent methods when protesting. Activists took part in boycotts, marches, and sit-ins, a form of protest in which African-Americans would sit in all-white areas at lunch counters and other facilities to protest racial segregation.
During this time period, King and thousands of other activists were attacked and subjected to harassment, violence and intimidation. But they persisted despite the hate and ignorance they were met with.
A momentous event took place in August of 1963 when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of over 200,000 Americans of all races at the Lincoln Memorial. Even today, excerpts of his speech continue to move people all over the world. One of the most notable is, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Cross-Curricular Activities for Martin Luther King Jr. Unit Study
The Martin Luther King Jr. story is much more than just dates and facts, of course. The message Dr. King shared and embodied has shaped the very culture of 20th and 21st century America and is as significant today as it ever was. Students will be much more engaged in the history of MLK, Jr, though, if they are able to connect his story with their own. Below you will find some multisensory learning activities, organized by grade level, to help your homeschoolers get even more out of this unit study.
Elementary Martin Luther King Jr. Activities
- Do you have a small box, a few plastic eggs, or even a cup with a lid in the house? Collect the letters from an old scrabble board, or make your own with small pieces of paper to spell out some of the following MLK, Jr. vocabulary words: civil, rights, freedom, equality, protest, speech. Place the letters of the words, one word at a time, into your container. Have your student shake them up and pour them out and then unscramble them to spell out the vocabulary word.
- Every picture tells a story. Browse pictures on the web of Dr. King’s life, and pick one or two that could be used as a story starter for your elementary age homeschooler. They could write (or tell) about what they think happened just after the picture was taken.
Middle School Martin Luther King Jr. Activities
- The “What If” game is a popular way to help students build problem solving skills. To apply the “What If” game to your MLK, Jr. study, ask your homeschooler questions such as, “What if Martin Luther King had not been a minister. Would that have changed how people received his message?” Another example of a question might be, “What if Dr. King had been born in the northern U.S? Would he have had the same passion about civil rights?”
- Using some of the facts they’ve learned about Dr. King, have your middle schooler create an acrostic of the word FREEDOM. Each letter of the word would start a sentence that states a fact about the life and times of MLK, Jr.
High School Martin Luther King Jr. Activities
- Has your high schooler ever studied genealogy? Set them on a research project to see how many generations of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ancestors they can track down. You might even turn it into an art activity by creating an MLK, Jr. family tree! Discuss how his ancestry and geographical history may have contributed to his life’s path.
- Analogies are ways to compare two different things. Martin Luther King, Jr. uses many of them in his “I Have a Dream” speech. For example, he compares our civil rights as citizens to a check. Download a copy of the speech and have your high schooler see how many analogies he or she can discover in it.
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Quick Martin Luther King Jr. Spelling Words