Resources for Teaching about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement


Martin Luther King’s own writings are an excellent resource for learning and teaching about the civil rights movement: Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958); Why We Can't Wait (1964), Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967). (Why We Can’t Wait includes the text of King’s essential "Letter from a Birmingham Jail").

"Eyes on the Prize" is a superb documentary video series on the civil rights movement created in 1987. The whole series is excellent, my favorites for teaching are "Fighting Back" and "No Easy Walk." This series is available free on-line. The fourth program "No Easy Walk" addresses the involvement of highschool students in Birmingham, Alabama.

An extremely useful history text for teachers and students seeking to understand civil rights and multicultural experience in America is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, now available free on-line.

There is a wealth of children’s literature treating King and civil rights. One of the best is Martin Luther King by Rosemary Bray. For very young children try Happy Birthday Martin Luther King by Jean Marzoflo. Look also at the many fine children’s books that have won the Coretta Scott King Award.

There are many biographies of King; adolescents and advanced elementary students might especially like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Movement by Lillie Patterson (1989).

There are young adult novels treating the civil rights movement and school integration, try Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Beals Patillo, Just Like Martin by Ozzie Davis, The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Curtis, or Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton.

Students can learn more about non-violence by reading essays like "Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau, The Story of My Search for Truth by Mahatma Gandhi, or Black Power by Stokely Carmichael.

African American literature is an important resource for extending the discussion of African American experience past MLK’s birthday. A few of the most important and frequently taught works include Frederick Douglass’s Narrative, Alex Haley’s Roots, poems and short stories by Langston Hughes, Richard Wright’s Native Son, Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor, young adult novels by Walter Dean Myers, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and, for another perspective on the Civil Rights movement, The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

King’s legacy Is also furthered by teaching about racism, civil rights, human rights, oppression, poverty, as well as the whole range of multicultural experience. Additional literature and historical materials can be found by those who seek them.

There are fine professional books for teachers for empowering teaching addressing race and oppression. A few starting points: White Teacher by Vivian Paley, Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice by Bill Bigelow, et al., I Won't Learn from You by Herbert Kohl, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks. Subscribe to the journals Rethinking Schools, (414 964-9646) and Teaching Tolerance (400 Washington Ave.; Montgomery, AL 36104).