Teaching My Kids about The Civil Rights Movement

I love the picture below of Dr. King with his children. I have such a deep respect for him, for his family, for those who followed his vision. This picture reminds me of childhood, its innocence and acceptance. It also reminds me of a line from one of Langston Hughes poems that states: “Where is the Jim Crow section on the merry-go-round?”

Martin Luther King Jr with his son Martin III and daughter Yolanda. Photo:Marvin Koner/Corbis

Over the past couple of months, as I have talked with my kids about the Civil Rights Movement, I have come to realize that while my kids don’t get the nuances and complications of slavery and race relations, they do intrinsically get what Langston Hughes meant – that we are all in this together.

At the local elementary book sale about a year ago, we bought the book Henry’s Freedom Box about the Underground Railroad. It quickly became my kids’ favorite bedtime story.

Henry is raised in slavery but grows up and marries a girl he loves. They have children and their owners allow them to stay together even though they have different masters. One day, while Henry is at work, his wife’s master sells her and her children at the slave auction. This breaks Henry’s heart and he decides he wants something different. So, with the help of some other people, he ends up mailing himself in a box to North.

You can image the questions my kids had after our first reading of this story. Why could someone sell his family? Did he get to say goodbye? Why did he have to mail himself? What’s a slave auction? Did he see his family again?!? Mr R had big crocodile tears when we read that Henry’s family was sold. It was heartbreaking! How did people do that to one another?

In addition to Henry, we also found and read about Ruby. We bought the book for a dollar from a teacher friend. This story is about the six-year-old Ruby Bridges (a year older than Miss S) and her integration in 1960 into an all-white school. A judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at William Frantz Elementary. This book talks of her faith, of her being escorted into the school, of the white mobs that didn’t want her there. 

Again, my kids had questions after reading this book. We talked about being brave and why that mattered. We talked about why adults would be yelling at this little black girl and withholding their white kids from school just because she was there. We talked about the importance of education and making the most of every opportunity. We talked about prayer (because Ruby prays for those who are yelling at her). Feisty Miss S said she would beat them all up since they were being mean to Ruby. Love that girl. She’s young but she gets that people were being unkind to Ruby even if she doesn’t understand all the reasons.

And last, but not least, we have talked about Martin Luther King Jr. We talked about his non-violence, of his vision that things could and should be better for African Americans, and of his “I Have a Dream Speech.” 
I told my kids, Martin Luther King Jr. did great things because he believed – in himself, in God, in his ability to make a difference. I deeply respect that about him, his family and those that followed him. 
All great things start with a belief – a motivator, an idea, a cause that just will not let you be. As I have studied the lives of people who have made great changes in human history – they always have this characteristic – a belief the deeply motivates them to action. Not getting up from your seat on the bus, walking across the bridge in Selma, marching on Washington DC. They all started from small ideas that together created massive change for good. 
This book, What Do You Do with an Idea? is a good way to talk to your kids about this concept of nurturing good ideas and letting them change the world.  
It’s been interesting to talk to my children, give them a context of history and to hear their thoughts and questions. I hope these books give you ideas of ways you can start conversations with your kids.
And today, in honor of what my kids and I have learned, we give a shout-out to all those who dream big, who want to change the world for the better, who fight injustices where they see them, who sacrifice for the greater good and who show us all how to be better and more kind to one another. 
Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day.

Comments

  1. says

    Love this blog! My favorite quote is "All great things start with a belief – a motivator, an idea, a cause that just will not let you be." I am putting this up where I can look at it every day. Thank you for sharing your life and insight!

  2. says

    Love this blog! My favorite quote is "All great things start with a belief – a motivator, an idea, a cause that just will not let you be." I am putting this up where I can look at it every day. Thank you for sharing your life and insight!

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