Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor, activist, humanitarian, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for championing the advancement of a cause using nonviolent civil disobedience.
MLK's birthday is a public holiday that creates a long three-day weekend in mid-January. The holiday weekend a great opportunity to take time to learn more about the man and his role in the civil rights movement, and to plan a family getaway to one of the destinations steeped in his legacy.
Our nation's capital celebrates MLK every year with a big peace parade and numerous commemorative events across the city. You will definitely want to visit the National Mall, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in August, 1963, and to reflect at the nearby Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the cherry tree-dotted Tidal Basin. Ranger programs and site tours are available throughout the day. Look for signs in the memorial for the next program's location and start time or check this calendar. Kids can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the information window at the bookstore. The book is filled with activities to explore the National Mall and Memorial Parks and find out more about the memorials.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and buried in Atlanta, and no city embraces his life and legacy more fully than his hometown. Plan on spending at least a half a day at the 22-acre Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, which includes King’s boyhood home, the Baptist church where King pastored, the “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, and Dr. King’s grave. The whole complex is managed by the National Park Service. Kids ages 9 to 12 can earn a free Junior Ranger badge by completing a set of age-appropriate tasks.
There are few places to learn about MLK better than Memphis. In April 1968, at age 39, Dr. King was assassinated as he stood on his hotel room balcony at the Lorraine Motel, now the site of the newly renovated National Civil Rights Museum, which traces key events in the movement and from Dr. King's life. Don't miss the “Exploring the Legacy” exhibit housed in the building where James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed Dr. King.
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
The 54-mile historic trail traces the route of three voting rights marches led by Dr. King in 1965. After the public viewed TV broadcasts of non-violent marchers being beaten by police, the final march was joined by thousands of supporters from across the United States and ended at the Alabama State Capitol (600 Dexter Ave.).
From 1954 to 1960, Dr. King was a pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (454 Dexter Ave.) in downtown Montgomery. It was here that King gathered with other leaders to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. Just around the corner at the Civil Rights Memorial (400 Washington Ave.), you can pay your respects to those who died in the struggle.
The 16th Street Baptist Church (1530 6th Ave. North) in Birmingham was a headquarters for Dr. King as he helped organize the boycotts and protests in Kelly Ingram Park, an important staging site located across the street.
In September 1964, four African American girls were killed when the Ku Klux Klan firebombed the church. Church tours are available twice a day, Tuesday to Friday, and by appointment on Saturdays. Don't miss a stroll through the park to view the statue of Dr. King and the sculptures depicting key events in the 1950s and 60s. Also worth a visit, the nearby Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (520 16th St. North) traces the civil rights movement.