Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a familiar name and face within American history. Around this time of year, we see his quotes as we scroll through social media. His image becomes a temporary fixture that is placed in elementary schools, and (likely) remains there through the month of February and on MLK Day. Many are aware of his childhood upbringing in the church, his years at Morehouse College, and his transformative activism. Some can even recite the infamous “I Have a Dream” speech, matching his inflection, determination, and spirit.
The spotlight was placed on King with the release of the 2014 historical drama Selma, which chronicled the fight for voting rights in Alabama. The film followed King’s public and private life, and also shed light on the significant roles of other rising activists, including Diane Nash, Andrew Young, and James Bevel. I saw the film when it was initially released, and I have watched it with family, friends, and students many times since then. Each time I watch the film, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Dr. King:
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Therefore, This quote is embodied in the film’s ever-present, everyday citizens who fought tirelessly for freedom. Annie Lee Cooper, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and other individuals working for civil rights are given prominence in Selma, demonstrating their boundless determination and courage. I was moved by their stories and became curious about the narratives of others who participated in the movement, irrespective of how well the individual (or their efforts) are known. On MLK Day 2022, here are three ways that you can learn more about those who worked assiduously for human rights:
MLK Day & Beyond
- Finding documentaries that provide historical insight into the Civil Rights Movement are helpful. While we may find the Internet to be daunting, it can also be a great place to search for a variety of resources and learning tools. In a recent search for information about the Civil Rights Movement, I was introduced to a wonderful documentary called Mighty Times: The Children’s March. Designed for viewers of all ages, The Children’s March focuses on the brave youth who took action against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. This powerful documentary includes stories from those who participated in the march, and how they organized for justice. You can find more information about the documentary here.
- Also, research books about human rights leaders. We all have probably made a New Year’s resolution to read more, and now is the perfect time to get started! Reading can expand our worldview as well as our knowledge on a range of topics. Reading can also introduce us to new people and their ideas. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision by Barbara Ransby is a comprehensive book that provides profound insight into the legacy of Ella Baker. A grassroots organizer, Baker, is revered as a leader who trained young activists. The book outlines Baker’s extraordinary career and the movement to Civil Rights for African Americans. You can find more information about Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement here.
- Thus, research my family’s narratives around the Civil Rights Movement. For some of us, the Civil Rights Movement lives only in the pages of our school’s history books. It seems that the movement has passed and that we will never have the opportunity to be in close proximity to it. In a recent casual conversation with one of my relatives, I learned that our great aunts were active in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama. Further, they assisted African American citizens as they studied for their voting tests, and hosted parties to help African American voters raise money to pay for their voting tax. My maternal grandmother also shared some interesting stories about attending “movement meetings” in Birmingham, Alabama, and the many times she heard Dr. King speak. Want to capture a family member’s story? Mobile apps like Story Corps are great for preserving these narratives. Your proximity to history may be closer than you think!