In 2011 a massive stone memorial of Martin Luther King Jr. was dedicated on the National Mall in Washington DC.  Dr. King’s memorial stands on a sightline between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.  It commemorates this modern hero’s efforts to advance the equality proclaimed by Jefferson (in the Declaration of Independence) and furthered by Lincoln (with the Emancipation Proclamation).  Here Martin Luther King himself once delivered his 1963 “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Martin Luther King Jr.
In His Own Words

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.  We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.  We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.  Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force…”


“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”


“With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.  This will be the day when all God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning – ‘my country ‘tis of thee; sweet land of liberty of thee, I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride; from every mountain side, let freedom ring” – and if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

Each month on the Core Virtues website, we feature the life of a hero or heroine – men and women who have tirelessly pursued excellence in their lives and helped improve the lives of others. We tie each month’s biography to the virtue of the month or to a theme suggested by the particular time of the year.



Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 -1968)MLK

On the third Monday of January (January 17, 2012) Americans have the opportunity to honor an icon of moral courage:  Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King bravely and eloquently fought the leading American civil rights battle of the twentieth century – racism, segregation on the basis of race, and anything less than full acceptance of the dignity of the human person.  A Baptist minister and a student of American history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s understanding of human dignity was rooted in a biblical awareness of all as children of God, and in an American citizen’s identification with his country’s ideals.  King frequently reminded Americans that their nation that led the world in declaring “all men are created equal,” and that “promissory note” was due the black people.  His soaring rhetoric challenged the bountiful nation to live up to its ideals, and the promise of equality for all.  He died fighting for those ideals.


MLKMartin’s Big Words:  The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Doreen Rappaport.  Illustrated by Bryan C Collier. 
Hyperion Books, 2007.  (K-5)


This is hands-down the best introduction to Martin Luther King for young children.  Doreen Rappaport exercises her considerable lyrical talents to recount the life story of Martin Luther King, and interweaves her narrative with King’s own “big words.”  All who have read or heard King’s speeches recall the power of his voice and words, but the title derives from his youth.  King’s admired his preacher father’s skill with words and vowed that when he grew up, he would “get big words too.”  The book is stunningly illustrated, drawing the reader to its subject. This little volume covers King’s youth, the stark reality of segregation at the time, King’s role in the Montgomery bus strike after Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man, his ongoing role in the protest movements, and tragic death.  The book has been criticized for failing to show any whites or women marching in the protest drawing, but the field of children’s books on King is surprisingly sparse, and this is still an outstanding book. 


MLK bioThe Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Martin Luther King. 
Edited by Clayborne Carson. Warner Books, 2001. (6 and up

Not written as a children’s book, this volume is still a great read for middle and high-school students seeking to understand King on his own terms.  Stanford historian Clayborne Carson assembled this insightful autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. from King’s various writings about himself, and has rendered an inspiring story of moral courage.  Like any good autobiography, it is ordered chronologically and flows almost seamlessly.  Teachers could choose almost any chapter to help students gain insight into the life, thought, and motivation of the twentieth century’s greatest champion of civil rights.