My son, Jude, was 4 years old when he first learned of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., thanks to his amazing preschool teacher. He was so excited to tell me all about this “great guy” he learned about, and he said, so matter-of-factly, that Dr. King was his hero – now and forever.
But I remember very clearly, with the broken heart that only a mother can have, the day he learned what racism was. You see, it wasn’t until a few weeks into learning about Dr. King that Jude finally realized Dr. King was fighting for something he’d never experienced.
We come from a large and racially diverse family, and Jude’s school is equally as diverse. He didn’t grow up experiencing people being hateful toward one another based on the color of their skin. When he found out what Dr. King and others had experienced and what segregation was, he was furious and disgusted. But he channeled that ire into emulating his hero. He wanted to learn all he could about Dr. King – his speeches, his marches, his family – and I gladly indulged him.
And here we are, nearly five years later, with Dr. King still holding the #1 hero spot in my son’s heart.
I asked Jude what he thought were the most important things people could learn about Dr. King on his special day. I think, as adults, we need to listen to kids more – they’re not yet tarnished by media and life’s bad apples. They aren’t born with hate, and in the words of the great Dr. King himself, “Somebody must have sense enough, and morality enough, to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.”
Without further ado, here are some interesting and inspiring facts about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as presented by Jude, age 9 (with some help from me, his mother):
Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the value of education. He worked hard and managed to skip both 9th and 11th grades in high school. He began taking classes at Morehouse College at the age of 15. By age 19, he received his bachelor’s degree in sociology. He went on to attend Crozer Theological Seminary and graduated with his Ph.D. at the age of 25. He had straight A’s, and he was both the student body president and the valedictorian of his class.
He was also the first African-American to be named TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year, and he was the youngest male to win a Nobel Peace Prize (for which he still holds the record). He donated all of his $54,123 in prize money to the civil rights movement. This is what he said in his acceptance speech:
“After contemplation, I conclude that this award, which I receive on behalf of that movement, is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression … I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
The March on Washington, led by Dr. King in August 1963, was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in U.S. history. Standing in front of the Lincoln memorial, Dr. King delivered his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. While definitely a defining moment in history, the speech itself had gone through several versions delivered at different times through the years. In fact, he delivered a similar speech in Detroit two months earlier. Even more surprising was the fact that most famous part of his “I Have a Dream” speech is that the “dream” portion was not part of the original speech – it was improvised on the spot. Toward the end of his prepared speech, Mahalia Jackson (a celebrated gospel singer of the time) shouted to him from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” At that point, Dr. King no longer read what was prepared, but rather spoke from the heart – delivering what is now arguably one of the most famous and powerful speeches in American history.
Interestingly enough, the “I Have a Dream” speech that Dr. King delivered at Cobo Hall in Detroit was released on an album called “The Great March to Freedom” by Motown king Berry Gordy.
Another interesting part of King’s life is his tie to “Star Trek.” Dr. King was a fan of the show and Nichelle Nichols – the actress who played Lt. Uhura. She was the first black woman to play a main character on TV who didn’t conform to the stereotypical roles for a woman of color at the time. She was fourth in command of a starship, and she was a strong, smart woman who was equal to the rest of the crew members. But if it wasn’t for Dr. King, there may have been no Lt. Uhura at all! They’d met at a NAACP fundraiser, and according to Nichols, when she told King that she was considering leaving the show, King encouraged her to keep going because she was helping the civil rights movement stay strong. (Also, “Star Trek” was the only show he and his wife, Coretta, would let their children stay up to watch.)
I hope that as Jude continues to grow and experience the world, he doesn’t grow hardened and weary. I hope he continues to hold Dr. King, and his message of love and righteousness for all people, as standards to which he must aspire. And I hope, that in the face of all the evil and tragedies in the world (especially recently), we can look back and reflect on the teachings of Dr. King, and rise above hatred.
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