Martin Luther King Day

On a cold December evening in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American department store assistant refused to give up her seat for white passengers on a crowded bus.  After she was arrested for violating Montgomery’s public transport segregation laws, a boycott of all public transport by Montgomery’s African American community was organised.  One of the chief agitators was Martin Luther King. 

January 21 marks ‘Martin Luther King Day’ in the United States. Established in 1985, the day commemorates the life and achievements of civil rights activist Martin Luther King and is an American Federal holiday.  The life of King can offer us all a lesson in determination, tolerance and patience and often features on the History curriculums in American schools.  

The life of Martin Luther King can provide inspiration for a range of lesson ideas that can teach students about how, through determination, seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome.  It can also be used as an example to show the importance of tolerance and inclusion; issues as relevant today as they were in 1960’s America.  In the U.S., the day is often commemorated in schools with a range of activities to highlight the key issues of the American Civil Rights Movement to new generations of school children.

Film lessons are also an effective way to convey the themes of Martin Luther King’s life.  The old saying that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ applies especially to teaching, although selecting the right pictures to use is vital in making sure students have an accurate portrayal of King’s life from which to learn. There is a wide selection of films that can be used to bring the Civil Rights Movement to life, such as ‘The Help’ and ‘Selma’, both acclaimed, well researched and well-acted dramas.

Here are ten more films to consider for Martin Luther King day.  

However, the PBS documentary ‘Eyes On the Prize,’ first broadcast between 1987 and 1990, is perhaps the most valuable teaching resource on film for this subject. It contains excerpts of interviews with a large number of participants of the events that unfolded, hours of news footage of King’s speeches and actions, as well as some footage of the protests and shocking retaliation to them that occurred during this tumultuous period.  The documentary consists of 14 hour-long episodes and truly is a treasure trove of information.  It can be found on youtube and showing relevant excerpts is likely to inspire students to watch the whole series in their free time.

If you are interested in inspirational speakers, check out Malala Yousafzai's speech at the United Nations.
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