Martin Luther King Jr. Day Questions And Answers
Question: When was Martin Luther King, Jr. born?
Answer: Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on Tuesday, 15 January 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Question: What were the names of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s family members?
Answer: Martin Luther King, Jr. was the second child and first son to the Reverend Martin Luther King and Alberta Williams King. He had one sister, Christine and one brother, Alfred Daniel.
Question: When was Martin Luther King, Jr. married, and did he have any children?
Answer: He married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953. They had four children: Yolanda Denise (born 1955), Martin Luther III (born 1957), Dexter Scott (born 1961) and Bernice Albertine (born 1963).
Question: What did Martin Luther King, Jr. study?
Answer: Martin Luther King, Jr. was a very bright student and a talented speaker. When he was nineteen he graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a BA degree in Sociology. In 1951, he graduated from the Crozer Theological Seminary with a BA of Divinity, which qualified him to become a pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. King also received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955.
Question: When did Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his famous speech “I have a dream …”?
Answer: On 28 August 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. organised a now historic march to Washington to show the importance of solving the nation’s racial problems. About 250,000 people gathered and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech when he uttered the immortal words: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.
Question: What sort of discrimination did he fight against?
Answer: Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced segregation early in life. When he was six years old, two white playmates told him that they were not allowed to play with him any longer. His mother explained to him that it was because they now attended segregated schools, but assured him that he was as good as anybody else. His father told him the story of the father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, and said that both of them now should have his name.
On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, and as a result she was arrested for violating the city’s segregation law. Activists protested and organised a boycott of the buses for one day and chose Martin Luther King, Jr. as their leader. This protest continued until the buses became desegregated. Under this time, about a year, Martin Luther King, Jr. was constantly harassed with death threats and bombing of his house.
Question: What were his dreams?
Answer: That all people would someday be sisters and brothers in a world governed by equality, justice, and peace.
Question: Why was Martin Luther King, Jr. awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize?
Answer: As Gunnar Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, said in his presentation speech: “He is the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle, and he has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races.
Today we pay tribute to Martin Luther King, the man who has never abandoned his faith in the unarmed struggle he is waging, who has suffered for his faith, who has been imprisoned on many occasions, whose home has been subject to bomb attacks, whose life and the lives of his family have been threatened, and who nevertheless has never faltered.
To this undaunted champion of peace the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament has awarded the Peace Prize for the year 1964.”
Question: When did Martin Luther King, Jr. die and where is he buried?
Answer: Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was trying to help the striking garbage workers. The funeral was held on 9 April 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Questions and Answers about Martin Luther King, Jr.
1. How Do His Words Resonate Today?
What would Dr. King make of America today?
In a 2021 piece, “The Words of Martin Luther King Jr. Reverberate in a Tumultuous Time,” Audra D. S. Burch, John Eligon and Michael Wines write:
He lived and died in a time of tumult and a racial awakening, so perhaps it is no surprise that the 35th national celebration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday has particular resonance amid one of the most traumatic seasons in memory: A raging pandemic. Protest and civil unrest after the killing of Black people by the police. A momentous election. And an insurrection.
Even the title of his final book — “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” — seems ripped from today’s headline.
“I think it’s still an unanswered question,” said Clayborne Carson, a history professor at Stanford University, referring to the title of Dr. King’s book.
These reporters asked Dr. Carson and others from across the country to choose words from Dr. King and reflect on how they resonate today. Invite your students to read what they had to say, then, perhaps, answer the question, “Where do we go from here?” themselves.
For deeper investigation, they might have a look at the special April 4, 2018 Times interactive headlined “Martin Luther King Jr.: 50 Years Later, His Battles Live On.” Here is how the piece begins:
Martin Luther King Jr. remains frozen in time for many Americans. Seared into our consciousness is the man who battled Southern segregation.
We see him standing before hundreds of thousands of followers in the nation’s capital in 1963, proclaiming his dream for racial harmony. We see him marching, arms locked with fellow protesters, through the battleground of Alabama in 1965.
But on the 50th anniversary of his death, it is worth noting how his message and his priorities had evolved by the time he was shot on that balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968. Dr. King was confronting many challenges that remain with us today.
He was battling racism in the North then, not just in the South. He was pushing the government to address poverty, income inequality, structural racism and segregation in cities like Boston and Chicago. He was also calling for an end to a war that was draining the national treasury of funds needed to finance a progressive domestic agenda.
This may not be the Dr. King that many remember. Yet, his words resonate powerfully — and, perhaps, uncomfortably — today in a country that remains deeply divided on issues of race and class.
How do your students see his words resonating in their own lives and communities — and in our nation and around the world? Invite them to click through this rich collection, which links to both new and archival pieces, as they address the question, What would Dr. King make of America today?
As they work, students might highlight quotes and ideas that pair especially well with other things they are reading, learning about, listening to or viewing. For instance, how do they speak to more contemporary works, from visual art on city streets and in galleries, to music like Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” or to novels like “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone or Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give”? Why?
As a culminating activity, a class might create a gallery of images and quotes that bridge Dr. King’s battles with those we are fighting today.
2. Black Lives Matter: A ‘Battle for the Soul of America’
The protests that broke out in the summer of 2020 in response to the death of George Floyd and many others became what scholars believe may be the largest movement in United States history. In June, Joe Biden, then on the campaign trail, noted, “Even Dr. King’s assassination did not have the worldwide impact that George Floyd’s death did … People are really realizing this is a battle for the soul of America.”
Do your students agree? Did any of them attend any of the marches that reached every corner of America, and many places around the world? Do they know any of the thousands of Americans who streamed to the Lincoln Memorial in September, 2020 to rekindle the spirit of the 1963 March on Washington?
You might ask them: What wisdom can Dr. King and the civil rights movement of the 1960s offer the activists of the Black Lives Matter movement? Why? In this article, those who fought with Dr. King offer seven lessons and warnings about both how to march and how to build a movement. Which do you think are most useful for Black Lives Matter activists today? If you have studied the work of Dr. King, are there any you would add to the list? Why?
3. Protests Yesterday and Today
Do you have to be disobedient if you want justice? How would your students answer?
How much do your students know about the civil rights movement? Test their knowledge with this 13-question quiz The Times published in 2019 in honor of Dr. King’s 90th birthday. Then consider: What did working to advance racial and social justice look like in the 1950s and 60s? What does it look like now?
In a 2015 Magazine article, “Teaching Martin Luther King Jr. in the Age of Freddie Gray,” Syreeta McFadden writes about discussing “Letter From Birmingham Jail” with her students at a community college in Manhattan:
… We returned to King’s letter, in which he draws a distinction between just and unjust laws. They didn’t know about this King, I found, the one who fought the law. In their view, the civil rights movement was embodied in King the Christlike leader, who stands for peace, love and brotherhood.
I told the students that King went to jail a lot for peace, love and brotherhood.
We talked about Baltimore, where the police had just killed Freddie Gray and street protests were swelling to an uprising. My students were skeptical of headlines and commentary that called for nonviolent protest. One of the students noted that the police were violent, too, and they were placing people in mortal danger just to protect some buildings from being damaged.
“A building is not more valuable than a person,” she said. Most of the others nodded in agreement. More began to speak. The rote discussion was becoming impassioned, cacophonous:
“But there’s a difference between rioting and peaceful protest. …”
“Are we saying property is more valuable than a human being?”
“That’s like saying to protest is unlawful. …”
“What does ‘peaceful’ even mean?”
Read about the rest of the discussion that day, and think about the implications for your own classroom. How does teaching about Dr. King and the civil rights movement look different today, after movements like #takeaknee and #MeToo, and protests from the Women’s March to the events in Charlottesville, Va., in August, 2017 and the Black Lives Matter movement?
What about after the pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021? On The Learning Network, we asked students what they thought about that riot, and many of them spoke passionately on what they saw as a double standard in how the police treated these insurgents and the way they have treated Black Lives Matter protesters. Do your students agree?
To think more about Dr. King and the history of protest, students might read one or both of the following.
In a 2017 Op-Ed, “Which Martin Luther King Are We Celebrating Today?,” Jason Sokol writes:
In this season of political polarization, it is tempting to hope that we can unite in celebration of Dr. King. But celebrators ought to know whom they are honoring. Dr. King died for striking garbage workers and beseeched his government to protect the vulnerable. He had a message for those who would target immigrants or wall off America from the world. In a 1967 speech, he declared: “Our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than national.” Instead of policing their borders, nations should “develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole.”
The alternative was unacceptable. “History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.” To honor Dr. King is to follow a different path.
And in a 2020 Op-Ed, “Without the Right to Protest, America Is Doomed to Fail,” the activist Patrisse Cullors looks at the Black Lives Matter movement as part of a long history:
Protest is the foundational variable of the American experiment. Every pivot point in the history of our country is rooted in it. From the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, a nation “of the people, by the people” is only as robust and defensible as its protections of the right to protest.
Protests led by Black Americans, though often unrecognized, have been particularly crucial to every great political movement in this country. From Crispus Attucks (the first martyr of the Revolutionary War) to Ida B. Wells and the Black suffragists fighting for women’s right to vote, Black and brown people have always protested for comprehensive systemic change and freedom for all Americans, even when they’ve been denied freedom themselves.
She also asks:
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow, I ask that anyone proud to be part of (or hoping to join) our ever-evolving country continue to educate themselves on both the roots of and the reasoning behind calls for “nonviolence.” Are such calls seeking solutions, or are they demanding silence from protesters?
Have your students read these pieces in preparation for a discussion on the role of protest in America in the past and today. What lines resonate? Where do they stand on questions about “disobedience” and violence as protest? What questions do these pieces raise about activism in 2021? What advice or help do they offer?
4. A Day of Service
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, challenges Americans to make the holiday into a day of active volunteer service to honor Dr. King.
Have students research ideas in the spirit of service here, and then design a day of service for themselves and their classmates, or for their family members, and present these ideas to their class. They can also find resources in our lesson plan Making a Difference: Ideas for Giving, Service Learning and Social Action.
5. ‘I Have a Dream’
Invite your students to watch Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Why is it still so powerful over 50 years later?
That’s the question we ask in our Text to Text lesson plan that pairs Dr. King’s words with an article by the Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, “The Lasting Power of Dr. King’s Dream Speech.” In it, we pose questions about the figurative language and other poetic and oratorical devices, such as repetition and theme, he uses, as well as questions about what it still has to say to us today. There are also several ideas for assessing how much progress on Dr. King’s dream our nation has made since he spoke.
Consider, for example, Adeel Hassan’s 2019 interview with Dr. King’s son about how far, or close, we are to achieving his father’s dream. Martin Luther King III said:
This vision that he engaged in and talked about, elements of it have become true. But the hope is that we’d be much further as a nation. I think we’re going through a metamorphosis. And what I mean by that is all of the ill, or all of the negative, has to come out for the positive to emerge because there’s no way that we can go back to the past.
Students can be invited to read the rest of the piece and then post answers to our Student Opinion question, What Does Dr. King’s Legacy Mean to You?
6. Songs in Celebration
Have students listen to some of the songs written in honor of Dr. King, and then write their own song. For example, see Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday Song,” originally written for Dr. King after there was opposition to creating the federal holiday, above.
Students might also listen to this one by James Taylor, which is not part of the Billboard list, above. Here is the first stanza:
Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
and recognize that there are ties between us, all men and women living on the Earth.
Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood, that we are bound together
in our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong.
We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead.
We are bound and we are bound.
For additional ideas for teaching history and social studies with music see our lesson plans Teaching With Protest Music and The Ten-Dollar Founding Father Without a Father: Teaching and Learning With ‘Hamilton.’