By SARA ARTHURS
Half a century after the civil rights movement, area educators are working to ensure that Martin Luther King’s dream is not forgotten.
In anticipation of Martin Luther King Day, the national holiday celebrated today, many area schools held activities related to the subject last week.
Retired Findlay City Schools principal Andrea King spoke to students at Bigelow Hill Intermediate School on Friday about her experience seeing King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
King, who started her talk by saying she is no relation to Martin Luther King, was 16 at the time.
She said Martin Luther King would have turned 85 on Jan. 15. It’s rare that the birthday of an ordinary person is made into a holiday, but she said the students should think of it not just as a day off of school but a day to honor King’s dream.
Andrea King grew up in Chicago and said that her experience as an African-American youth was different than her relatives who lived in the South. She would travel to visit her cousins in the South and would learn that they couldn’t attend the schools closest to their home, couldn’t go into many restaurants and could only sit in the balcony of a theater.
As a teenager, Andrea King learned of Rosa Parks and the bus boycott that Martin Luther King was involved in at the beginning of the civil rights movement. She saw coverage of marches and sit-ins and wanted to participate.
She was able to attend the march in Washington, where King gave his iconic speech, with her pastor. At the time, she said, she had no idea she was going to be a part of something so important.
“Fifty years later people are still talking about that march,” she said.
She said people of many races all came together for the march.
“We heard the words, ‘I have a dream.’ … Those bellowed,” she said.
She told the children that in 1963 it would have been impossible for her, a black woman, to be the principal of a school.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” she said of the civil rights movement.
She told the students that they still need “to keep that dream alive.”
She then asked what would bother Martin Luther King if he were alive today. The children mentioned bullying, school shootings and murders.
“There are a lot of inequalities even today,” Andrea King said, noting that the girls in the audience may face being judged because of their gender.
Although Martin Luther King was killed, his dream lives on, she said.
“That’s what I want for you, to keep that dream alive,” she said.
At Findlay High School, special education teacher Lisa Baer read the book “My Brother Martin,” by King’s sister, Christine King Farris, on Friday. The book tells of the siblings’ childhood. Baer used it to illustrate how many of King’s values were present even in his childhood. She had the class talk about how they could use those values in their own lives.
The book tells of how, as a child, Martin Luther King would play with the child across the street but later was told they couldn’t play together because King was black.
“How would that make you guys feel?” Baer asked. The responses were “sad” and “mad.”
“Yeah, it would make me mad,” Baer said.
Farris wrote in the book that King was once a young boy and that people should realize that potential lives within each of them.
“That was years ago but there’s still a lot of things that can be done today,” Baer said.
She asked what King had valued, such as being kind and loving, being peaceful, and standing up for yourself and others if something isn’t right.
It isn’t just words, Baer said, a person must “actively work toward change.”
She then asked her students how they could use King’s values in their life, and the class talked about being kind to one’s parents and befriending another child if they see him or her being bullied.
Another special education teacher at Findlay High School, Donna Leonard, teaches about King as part of American history curriculum.
Leonard’s student Malinda Marquart, now a 16-year-old sophomore, found learning about King as a freshman particularly inspiring.
Marquart had been somewhat familiar with the civil rights movement but didn’t know many of the details until she took Leonard’s course. She was struck by how black people “couldn’t go into certain restaurants or use certain bathrooms.”
She was particularly horrified by the story of white authorities blasting black protesters with fire hoses, and using a dog “which was named after the N-word” to attack them.
Marquart, who is herself part black, found much in the class that was meaningful. The lesson is “just not to judge people,” not only by race but also not to judge by other qualities such as how the person dresses.
“We live in a world where people judge people. … (But) what’s on the outside doesn’t matter,” she said.
Leonard said many of her students didn’t know much about the civil rights movement before discussing it in class. She has had several students from multicultural backgrounds who, she said, would put themselves in the place of people back then.
Her students were eager to get more and more knowledge on the topic.
“I just couldn’t give them enough,” she said.
Leonard said it was also meaningful to teach with primary source documents such as the letters King wrote from jail.
At Glenwood and Donnell middle schools, the civil rights curriculum focuses on the novel “Mississippi Trial 1955.” The book is historical fiction written about the true story of the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was kidnapped, tortured, beaten and shot after allegedly whistling at a white woman.
Sherri Federici, a teacher at Donnell, said she and Glenwood teacher Sue Foltz were introduced to the book at a conference. The novel revolves around a fictional character who befriended Till.
“It’s an excellent story,” she said.
She said students can relate to Till, who was their own age.
Foltz said the novel is used to launch discussion of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Foltz said Parks, in interviews, had said that the day she refused to move from her bus Till’s murder was in the back of her mind.
On Tuesday, Foltz’ class will watch a portion of King’s speech. Her class also studies the civil rights movement and the history of the Jim Crow laws.
Federici’s students spent last week talking about Martin Luther King Jr. and read the text of his “I Have a Dream” speech in their textbook.
Federici said the typical eighth-grader may not understand what life was like during the civil rights movement. She uses a variety of methods including music that has allusions to King.
Federici also has her students write a rough draft of what they would like to see or what their own dream of a better world would be.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
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