You are here

Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday Offers Chance To Reflect On Equality In America

The "Stone of Hope" at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C. NPS photo.

The upcoming three-day Martin Luther King, Jr., Day weekend offers a chance to not just celebrate the life of one of the country's foremost Civil Rights advocates but also an opportunity to reflect on the equality we enjoy in the United States.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929, the son of a clergyman. A brilliant student, Dr. King skipped the ninth and twelfth grades and graduated from Morehouse College in 1948. He then attended Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, graduating with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1951. He went on to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy from Boston University in 1955, and became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Dr. King played a major role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 that resulted in a U.S. District Court ruling that ended racial segregation on Montgomery city buses. He then went on to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with other key Civil Rights activists in 1957, and assisted with desegregation initiatives in the cities of Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, and St. Augustine, Florida.

In 1963, Dr. King led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The impact of the march and specifically of Dr. King’s speech was indelible, leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and effectively ending segregation in schools and public buildings.

Dr. King’s accomplishments go far beyond what can be mentioned in a few paragraphs. His life and work are further chronicled at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Georgia, where his birth home is preserved. A large visitor center illustrates Dr. King’s legacy through moving photographic exhibits. Visitors can also visit the King Center, founded by Dr. King’s wife Coretta Scott King after his assassination.

Additionally, Dr. King is immortalized at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There are several other national park sites that document and examine the struggle for Civil Rights in the United States, including Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site, and Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

Unable to visit these sites? There are a variety of products available on that will assist you in learning more about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement:

Guidebook to African American History in the National Parks

Alternate Text

This concise guidebook provides an enlightening glimpse into how African American history is preserved and interpreted in America's national parks. Woven together, the diverse park sites provide a tapestry into the legacy of the African America experience. This book includes dozens of historic and present-day images of the parks and the people and events they commemorate. Softcover, 68 pages; Produced by Eastern National, $7.95.

The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle

General Editors: Clayborne Carson, David J Garrow, Gerald Gill, Vincent Harding, and Darlene Clark Hine

A record of one of the greatest and most turbulent movements of this century, The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader is essential for anyone interested in learning how far the American civil rights movement has come and how far it has yet to go. It features the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision in its entirety; speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr.; an interview with Rosa Parks; addresses by Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson, and much more. Softcover, 764 pages, $20.00.

King Remembered

Written by Flip Schulte and Penelope McPhee with foreword by Rev. Jesse Jackson

King Remembered is an extraordinary tribute to one of the most important leaders of our time, and an eyewitness account of one of the most turbulent eras in American life. History spoke through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he struggled for desegregation, fought for equal rights, and led America on the path to the Birmingham bombings to his impassioned plea in I Have a Dream. Softcover, 303 pages, $21.95.

Alternate Text

Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Written by David J. Garrow On August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, an even to which the newspapers of August 7 devoted headline coverage. This book is about voting rights, but it is also about protest, because the story of how southern blacks finally won equal voting rights cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of how the dynamics of protest helped them to achieve the remarkable gains that they made. Softcover, 346 pages, $37.00.

The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation

Written by Drew D. Hanson

The Dream is the first book about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legendary "I Have A Dream" speech. Opening with an enthralling account of the August day in 1963 that saw 250,000 Americans converge on the March on Washington, The Dream delves into the fascinating and little-known history of Dr. King's speech. Hansen, the author, explores King's compositional strategies and techniques and proceeds to a brilliant analysis of the speech itself, examining it on various levels: as a political treatise, a work of poetry, and as a masterfully delivered and improvised sermon bursting with biblical language and imagery. Hardcover, 294 pages, $23.95.

DVD/ Audio DVD

Alternate Text

Never Lose Sight of Freedom

Follow the footsteps of 1965 voting rights marchers with Never Lose Sight of Freedom, your multi-media, DVD guided tour to this historic struggle. Meeth the people, see the places, and feel the events that reshaped US democracy forever. Frank interviews with 39 leaders and foot soldiers bring this historic struggle alive today. Vintage news footage documents the violence and courage of "Bloody Sunday"-as the nation moved from Jim Crow injustice to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. With this 2-disc set, you too will march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, guided by the searching eyes and camera of 20 Alabama high school students. DVD, $29.95.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream

This DVD features highlights from major speeches given by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Included are the I Have A Dream speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC (August 28, 1963); Brown Chapel, Selma, Alabama (March 8, 1965); the I've Been to the Mountaintop his final Speech, the day before Dr. King's Assassination (April 3, 1968); and Robert F. Kennedy's Eulogy for Dr. King (April 4, 1968). DVD, 60 minutes, $20.00.

We Shall Overcome: Songs of the ‘Freedom Riders’ and the ‘Sit-ins’

Spirituals, gospels and new songs of the Freedom Rider and Sit-In Movement sung by the Montgomery Gospel Trio, The Nashville Quartet and Guy Carawan. CD, $17.99.

For Kids:

Kids Discover Civil Rights

This 19-page magazine is a timeline of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. It is laid out in a way that makes it fun and easy for children to learn about the Civil Rights movement. It also features books for children and adults who are interested in learning more about Movement. The last 2 pages feature activities to help the reader test what he or she has learned from the book. Great for teachers! Softcover, $3.50.

Alternate Text

Martin Luther King Day

Written by Linda Lowery

This easy-to-read book chronicles the life of Martin Luther King Jr and the events leading up to the creation of a national holiday in his honor. This children's book is filled with illustrations and contains thoughts on Martin Luther King. Softcover, 56 pages, $5.95.

The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Johnny Ray Moore

This little book tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he excelled at school, became a minister and worked to end segregation in America. Parents can use this book to introduce Dr. King to very young children through these simple words and delicate watercolors. Great for baby to preschool age children! Board book for little fingers; 26 pages, $6.95.


Black History Brain Quest

How well do you know black history? Where did Dr. Martin Luther King deliver his "I have a Dream" speech? Who wrote Invisible Man? Includes 5,000 years of heroes, culture and achievement, from kingdom of ancient Ghana to Oprah Winfrey, the Fourteenth Amendment and the very first Freedom Ride, Charles Drew, the NAACP's Spingarn Medal, Colin Powell and Jesse Owens. Because it's more than knowledge - it's heritage. $10.95

Civil Rights Knowledge Cards

This deck of 48 knowledge cards offers a concise illustrated history of the civil rights movement. Each card has a photograph of an important event or person on one side and a brief biography or account on the other. From legally sanctioned segregation to Freedom Riders rolling into the country of white rage; from Brown v. Board of Education to Rosa Parks; from Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, these cards tell the story of a turbulent era and a proud achievement. $9.95


I've often wondered if anyone knows the identity of the ranger who was standing just behind and to the left of Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as he delivered his I Have a Dream speech?  It would be very interesting to hear the story of his experiences that day.

Too bad about that controversial "I was a drum major" memorial inscription marring his commemoration.  Talk about things that make you ask, "What were they thinking?"  I mean, some things just do not lend themselves to the sound byte treatment of today, and now this gaffe is literally "set in stone."  I applaud Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for promising to make it right.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide