The Legacy of MLK

It’s hard to live in America and not know who Martin Luther King Jr. was. If you’re reading this from out of the country, MLK was a black Baptist minister who became the driving force in the 1960’s fight for civil rights, and for the equal treatment of black citizens in America. His call was for peaceful protest and non-violence – always non-violence – and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. For his outstanding efforts, Mr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray was charged with the murder, a white troublemaker with a 7th grade education and a long rap sheet. Ray admitted to the crime, had a strong timeline leading up to the crime, had fingerprints on the weapon, but because he lied numerous times and changed pleas and facts all over the place, conspiracy theories abound.

Kings death no doubt played a major role in the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, just a week later, in an effort to help quell the riots that followed his death. His examples reached into South Africa and Northern Ireland, areas of long hostilities, and a statue of him stands in Westminster Abbey in London.

King’s beliefs and activities created as many conflicts as they tried to solve. While the racially charged South saw him as too progressive, so far as to call him a communist, many in the black community, such as Malcolm X, thought he didn’t go far enough and demanded radical action, not peaceful protests. King alienated himself from the US government by opposing the war in Vietnam. Herbert Hoover, head of the FBI, considered King a radical and sent him threatening letters. It wasn’t until 1986 that Ronald Reagan enacted Martin Luther King Day as a Federally recognized holiday.

Biographies will give the standard information on Martin Luther King, and while White Trash (warning: FaceBook will jail you for discussing this book) and Caste are excellent books which will open your eyes to issues you never considered, they’re heavy on sociology and can be difficult to slog through at times. If you’d rather read about the issues he fought against, and where we stand today on Civil Rights in an easier fashion, check out these non-fiction books that will give you a good perspective of the issues. If non-fiction isn’t your thing, try these novels about modern issues as well, and realize we still have a long way to go. 

The Hate U Give

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Small Great Things

My Brother Moochie

The Help


Native Son

Born a Crime

Sing, Unburied, Sing

A Raisin in the Sun

Long Way Down

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.

Dear Martin

My Life With Martin Luther King Jr

Survival Math

How We Fight for Our Lives

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with Knowledge and Service

January 19, 2015 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In 1994 Congress designated MLK day as a day of service. The MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. It calls for Americans to work together in order to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. To learn more about the day check out the official website here.

The titles below include children’s books about Dr. King, fiction and nonfiction books about ordinary people who stand up for what’s right, and stories about helping others and giving back. Then there is a list of books about volunteering, to help choose what avenues we each might want to take in volunteering or service. No matter the day, helping out in the community is rewarding for the volunteer and those it helps. So even if you cannot participate on the designated day, maybe a book can help in finding something you can be passionate about or enjoy while serving the community.

People Who Made a Difference:

1. Child of the Civil Rights Movement by  Paula Young Shelton. A daughter of civil rights activist Andrew Young describes her experiences of growing up in the Deep South at the height of the movement, sharing her witness to the efforts of her father, family friend Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of others who participated in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.


2. March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris.Having led thousands in a march for civil rights to the foot of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. made the most of the historical moment by giving a speech that would forever inspire people to continue to fight for change in the years ahead.

3. Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges. Provides the first-hand factual account of the six-year-old student who made history by having been one of the first black children to attend an all-white, segregated school in the 1960s.

4.Sit-in: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney. A picture book celebration of the
50th anniversary of the momentous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, when four college students staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing Civil Rights Movement.

More books on civil rights and how individuals affect change include:The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles,  I Am Rosa Parks by Rosa Parks, Heroes for Civil Rightsby David A. Adler, Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin, Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movementby Ann Bausum, My Country, ’tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights by Claire Rudolf Murphy, Miles to Go for Freedom: Segregation and Civil Rights in the Jim Crow Yearsby Linda Barrett, The Girl From the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield, and Free at Last?: The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made Itby Fred Powledge. 

Inspiration to Serve:

1. 50 Ways to Save our Children: Small, Medium & Big Ways You Can Change a Child’s Lifeby Cheryl Saban.Describes how to make a difference in a child’s life, including collecting toys for homeless shelters, donating books to schools and libraries, volunteer work, charitable donations, and starting a scholarship fund.

2. Teens With The Courage to Give: Young People who Triumphed over Tragedy and Volunteered to Make a Difference by Jackie Waldman. Thirty young people tell their stories of overcoming hardship to become volunteers in this inspiring look at a national trend among teenagers.

3. Our Day to End Poverty: 24 Ways You Can Make a Difference by Shannon Daley-Harris and Jeffrey Keenan, with Karen Speerstra.Imagine ending poverty at home and around the globe in our own lifetimes. Imagine your actions combining with others; actions to make poverty history. With originality and imagination, this book invites us to look at our very ordinary days, from waking up in the morning to going to bed in the evening, and to begin to think about poverty in new and creative ways. “Our Day to End Poverty” is organized into 24 “hour/chapter” segments.  Each chapter connects with your day, from breakfast to bedtime, relating these steps to ending poverty to our daily routines. Some times a problem gets to be so big, we feel there is nothing we can do about it. “Our Day to End Poverty” reminds us that if we all do just a little, a lot can get done.

  4. Giving: How Each of us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton. Compiling anecdotes about the diverse charitable efforts of the famous and non-so-famous, the former president looks at the positive influence of such work in every corner of the world and examines the profound benefits of working for the good of others for all humankind.
Looking for more inspiration? Try checking out The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change by Adam Braun, Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World by Wendy Smith, Immersion Travel USA: The Best and Most Meaningful Volunteering, Living, and Learning Excursions by Sheryl Kayne, Green Volunteers: The World Guide to Voluntary Work in Nature Conservation edited by Fabio Asuneda, Volunteering: The Ultimate Teen Guide by Kathlyn Gay, In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy with Sally Jenkins, The Busy Family’s Guide to Volunteering: Do Good, Have Fun, Make a Difference as a Family! by Jenny Friedman, Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures that will Benefit You and Others by Bill McMillon, Doug Cutchins, and Anne Geissinger, or Volunteering: A How-to Guide by Audrey Borus.