Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paved the way for the civil rights movement. Thanks in large part to the groundwork he laid, America moved from a place where African Americans were forced to the back of the bus and couldn’t dine in the same restaurants, attend the same schools, or even drink from the same water fountains as their white counterparts, to a country that went on to elect a black president.
Dr. King based his vision on the Bible, often stating the Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount inspired his “dignified social action.” He took the words of the prophet Micah to heart, envisioning a country where elected officials would do what God requires:
He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? —Micah 6:8
Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, but even his very last speech gave honor to the Bible by referencing the story of Moses and the way in which it inspired him:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.”
Using Dr. King’s wisdom is a great way to connect civil rights principles with biblical principles for your kids.
Even though they weren’t around for the turbulent early days of the civil rights movement, they likely already know the basics from history class. They might not have lived through the shock of hearing about the assassination firsthand and watching its repercussions, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn from hearing about it today.
A Simple Philosophy
The verse in Micah is a great place to start because it states things as simply as possible. God wants us to be humble, just, and merciful. He doesn’t add any qualifying statements. He doesn’t say we should act that way only to those who look and act like us or share the same beliefs we do. Like Nike, He basically says to “Just Do It.”
Kids today often have trouble relating to the struggles of African Americans in the past. While racism and prejudice still exists, it’s on the downswing, especially among the younger generation. When a Cheerios commercial featuring a mixed-race couple and their daughter caused an uproar among adults, children who were interviewed about it for a Kids React video couldn’t understand the fuss.
The New Age of Civil Rights
That doesn’t mean that Dr. King’s message and the biblical principles on which it’s based don’t have relevance in today’s world. They’ve simply shifted over to other civil rights issues and problems faced by the modern world. Even with the increased awareness of bullying, it’s still all too common for youngsters to verbally and physically attack those who are different.
Discuss these issues with your kids, and use Dr. King’s philosophy as the groundwork. Remind them that he simply believed that we all should treat others well, and God wants the same thing.
When His Son, Jesus, told the tale of the Good Samaritan, it was the equivalent of a Ku Klux Klan member helping an injured African American. Most kids know that story, but they don’t understand the animosity between Samaritans and Jews. You can use it as an illustration of standing up for someone who is being bullied or befriending someone who others dislike for being different. It’s a courageous act that fits into Dr. King’s philosophy and pleases God.
A Selfless Lesson
Dr. King himself used the parable of the Good Samaritan in his last speech. Two other travelers, including a priest, had passed the injured man without helping. King points out that the road was a dangerous place, frequented by robbers. Help your kids relate this to modern-day situations when they’re reluctant to help someone because of what others might think, or even do to them.
Dr. King summed up that attitude by pointing out that the first question asked by those two passersby was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” They were concerned with their own needs, not with following biblical principles. But then he points out that the Good Samaritan had the opposite reaction: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Ask your child to imagine the world if the civil rights movement had never existed.