The History of Memorial Day for Kids

Have you ever heard of Memorial Day? Memorial Day is an American holiday honoring men and women who have died while serving in the military. It takes place on the last Monday of May every year. Most kids and adults get this day off work and school, so usually the day is filled with parties and vacation time. I know growing up most of my memories of Memorial Day involved pool parties and barbeques with family and friends. And while it’s good to spend time with those we love, it’s also important to understand why we have Memorial Day. Growing up, I also remember visiting the cemetery to place flowers on the wreath of my grandfather. My grandfather served in England during World War 2. He had to leave his wife and daughter and while he was away his job was to guard the bomber planes at night. He didn’t die during that war, but we still honored him for his service. I also had a younger brother who passed away, so we always visited his grave as well. 

Memorial Day is a special time to remember those who are no longer with us. If you notice the word “memorial” sounds kind of like “memory” and that means on this day we remember our family and friends who have passed away. 

Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day and originally started during the years after the American Civil War. The Civil War was a time when many lives were lost, so many families around this time of year were thinking about their brothers, husbands, and sons and wanted to remember them by decorating their graves.

One reason Memorial Day is during the Spring is when flowers are in bloom and often families decorated the graves with flowers. No one is exactly sure when Decoration Day started, there are many different theories and ideas, but after the Civil War and World War 1 and World War II Decoration Day became more and more popular. 

One of the towns where Decoration Day was celebrated was Waterloo, New York. In Waterloo they held a large event where businesses closed and the entire community came out to decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. The first time they celebrated it was May 5th 1866. Over time many other states started holding their own Decoration Day. Often these holidays have a parade which include those in the military and veterans. A veteran is someone who served in the military, but was no longer serving. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. 

Finally in 1967 the United States government decided to make Memorial Day a holiday all across the country and placed it on Monday so it could be a three day weekend. Because of the time of the year it also unofficially marks the beginning of summer, which is one reason families use it to go on vacation, spend time outside, have pool parties, go to the beach and have barbecues. 

While Memorial Day is an American holiday, many other countries have days set aside to honor those who served in the military. South Korea has their Memorial Day on June 6th, the same month the Korean War began. The United Kingdom, Canada, France and many other countries celebrate Armistice Day on November 11th, when World War 2 ended. Each country has their own celebration that tends to correspond to the end of a war where they remember those who were lost. 

How do you plan to celebrate Memorial Day this year? Is there someone in your family who you will remember? Spend some time thinking about all that you have and the freedoms you enjoy because of others who came before you and were willing to sacrifice their time and even their lives. Memorial Day is also a good time to spend with your family. Take the time to think about how fortunate you are to have friends and family in your life and to not take them for granted.

The History of Charlemagne for Kids

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a king? Would it be an easy life for a hard one? Would you just do whatever you please, or would you work to make your kingdom a better place for the people living in it? Today we’re going to learn about Charlemagne, one of the most powerful kings of Europe. 

Charlemagne was born around the year 742 C.E. He lived during what is known as medieval times. Think of castles and knights and ladies. That is the medieval times. Charlemagne was a Frank. The Franks were a Germanic people who lived in what is now known as Belgium, France, Luxemborg, the Netherlands and Germany. The Franks became very powerful at the time the Roman Empire was losing power.  France is named after the Franks. 

Charlemagne’s father was Pepin the Short who was the king of the Franks. Pepin led the Franks in war and won many battles. His kingdom grew as he won battles for his people. This made him and his family very powerful. Very little is known about Charlemagne’s childhood to this day, but it is known that he grew tall and strong, he had light hair, and was good at learning languages. He became a powerful warrior and later in battle carried a large sword with a gold hilt, which he named Jway-uze.

When Charlemagne’s father died in 768, his kingdom was divided between Charlemagne and his brother, Carloman, who didn’t get along very well. But once his brother died, Charlemagne became the only ruler of the kingdom. He was also known as Charles the Great, which is what Charlemagne translates to. 

As king, Charlemagne’s main goal was to unite all of the people of his kingdom under one rule and one religion, which was Christianity. Charlemagne was a skilled military leader and used his talents and his army to bring other people under his rule. Over the years he fought in 53 military campaigns to enlarge his kingdom. The people he fought included the Avars (what is now Austria and Hungary), the Lombards (what is now Italy) and Bavaria, along with other peoples. One of his most difficult opponents were the Saxons, the people of what is now Germany. They wanted to be free and control their own lands, not be part of Charlemagne’s kingdom. They resisted him fiercely, but Charlemagne was determined to bring them under his rule, even though it required a great deal of violence and cruelty. Charlemagne was known for doing whatever it took to reach his goals of growing his kingdom. Even if it meant hurting others. But whenever Charlemagne conquered the Saxons in one place, they’d start fighting him in another place. It took him over 30 years to finally bring the Saxon’s under his rule, they were a very independence people. Because Charlemagne was Christian, anyone forced into his kingdom was required to adopt the his religion as well. Charlemagne also fought very hard to take control of Italy, which finally ended in 777 C.E.

Charlemagne had a very large family! It was very important to him that his children became educated. At the time only monks knew how to read and write, but Charlemagne believe it was important for kings and their families to be educated. This was very out of the ordinary for his day. He loved books and often had someone read to him while he was eating. Even though he was a kind and very rich, he dressed very simply and ate simple food. He believed this made him stronger. He also saw how many kings became rich and then became lazy, spending all of their time enjoying their money, good food, big castles, and nice clothes. Instead, Charlemagne focused on staying strong and smart. He built libraries in his homes and stayed active. He also made sure his children didn’t grow lazy with all of their wealth. He hired tutors to make sure his many children learned how to read and studied good books. 

Charlemagne once said to his sons, “You think because you are rich and are the sons of the great men of my kingdom that your birth and wealth will protect you in my favor. I will let you know that you stand in need of learning more than those who are poor and dependent. You think only of your pleasures and of your dress and play, but I attach no importance to your wealth and to your station, and if you idle your time when you are young you will be worthless when you are old.”

During the time of Charlemagne’s reign, the Christian church based in Rome was concerned about being taken over by its enemies. Because Charlemagne was Christian, he gave much of his money to support the church in Rome. The leader of the church in Rome was called the Pope, and at the time his name was Pope Leo III. In order to create a strong alliance between Rome and Charlemagne, so he could protect them, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans in 800 C.E. on Christmas Day at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This gave people and leaders throughout Rome even greater respect for Charlemagne. 

After taking control of much of Europe, and even though he did it in a very violent way, Charlemagne did a good job at taking care of the lands he had conquered. He allowed people to keep most of their laws and customs and let them rule themselves. Because he believed in education, he had schools built and used his money to pay for teachers. He also pushed for schools to use an alphabet that was the same, so people could communicate better within his big empire. 

He also wanted the economy to be strong in his empire. An economy relates to how people buy and sell things. He worked to have common money used throughout his empire, to make it easier for people to buy and sell goods. He ordered the construction of a great canal, the Fossa Carolina, to connect the Rhine and Danube Rivers. A canal is a man-made river. The uniting of these lands and the result of his reforms are called the Carolingian Renaissance. He also became known as the “Father of Europe.”

Charlemagne often moved throughout his empire, living in different lands in order to help govern them and push his reforms. He was also known to be very athletic. He liked hunting, horseback riding, and swimming. 

Because of his activity, Charlemagne was known to be very healthy most of his life, but during the last four years he had fevers and started to limp. In 813, he crowned his son Louis the Pious as a co-emperor. In 814 when Charlemagne died Louis became the emperor. He was buried in a cathedral in Aachen, ending a reign of more than 40 years. It is incredible to think of all that was accomplished during his reign. 

Like many people in history, Charlemagne’s character is a complicated one. Like many military leaders like Julius Caesar or Napolean, he was very driven by power to conquer all of Europe. This led him to do many terrible things and attack people who just wanted to be left alone. When Charlemagne did finally conquer, he did his best to make his kingdom a good one.

Thanks for listening to this episode about Charlemagne. We also have a video on YouTube about Charlemagne if you want to check it out. Thanks again and be sure to tune in next week for a brand new episode!

The History of Easter for Kids

Have you ever heard of Easter Island?  Many movies talk about it and some even say that is where the Easter Bunny lives.  But in fact, it is a real place that has nothing to do with the holiday of Easter. But many people know of Easter Island from the large famous face statues that are often seen in pictures of the place.  So why does Easter Island have this name?

Easter Island is a large island that covers nearly 65 square miles.  It is located in the South Pacific Ocean, far off of the west coast of the country of Chile in South America.  It is also an almost equal number of miles to the east of Tahiti.  

Many people have been confused about the name “Easter Island” and have wondered whether the island has something to do with the holiday of Easter. Is this where the Easter Bunny lives when he is not hopping around the world delivering eggs?  Let’s find out. 

The first people to live on Easter Island arrived on the island around the year 400 A.D. They were from another Polynesian island close by and they came to Easter Island looking for a new place to live.  These first people called the island “Rapa Nui”.  Because of its remote, or far away, location, the first peoples of Rapa Nui lived there on their own for hundreds of years before there were any other visitors from other countries. 

The traditions and stories of the Polynesian people say that the first king of Rapa Nui was named “Hoto-Matua”.  He was a ruler of a group of people that traveled around many islands in the area.  The group of explorers led by Hoto-Matua was searching for a new place to make their home. The story says that after traveling thousands of miles, the exploring group landed at a sandy beach on the island.  The island of Rapa Nui is actually quite rocky on the coast, or edge of the land near the water.

The traditional Polynesian story says that the group, led by their leader, Hoto-Matua, landed on the sandy beach, which was one of the only sandy spots on the coast. The group explored the island and found that it was a great place to live.  It was abundant, with many fish and other types of food, and had a good climate or weather.  They decided to stay and build their home on this newly found island.  This is the start of the first peoples living on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The first peoples learned how to harvest food and fish on the island, including native fruit and plants.   They grew in size over time and developed a long and rich culture over the hundreds of years since the first group arrived.

One of the best pieces of evidence ot the early people that lived on the island is the giant stone statues that have been found around Easter Island.  These statues are called “moai” and are part of what makes Easter Island famous.  You may have even seen pictures of these statues before.  They look like giant stone heads sticking out of the ground. 

There are over 900 moai statues all over Easter Island.  The statues are all around 13 feet (or 4 meters) high, with a weight of 13 tons!  They are huge faces and chests carved out of a type of rock called “tuff”.  Tuff is a light and porous rock, or rock with holes in it, that was made from volcanic ashes.  One thing that many people don’t know about the statues is that they actually go into the ground and continue at least partly underground.  They are a mystery that no one can really solve. 

No one today knows why these statues were made and why there are so many.  It is also a mystery why they were built so big and how they were moved around the island.

One thing is for sure: the statues show that their creators, the early people of Easter Island, were very good craftsmen and engineers, or people who design and make strong structures.  And while the early people who lived on Easter Island were partly Polynesian, the statues on Easter island are distinct, or different only to them, so their culture was different than the Polynesian culture.

In modern times, researchers have determined that there were three different cultural phases, or separate times in human history there.  During the early and middle periods, statues were built and torn down and then rebuilt in the same places.  In the later period, the statues were built even bigger than before and are the statues that we see pictures of today. 

The first European person to visit Easter Island was a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen.  He came exploring the area in the year 1722. Captain Roggeveen and his crew arrived on the island on the holiday of Easter.  To help remember the day and celebrate it, the Dutch named the island Paaseiland, which means “Easter Island” in Dutch. 

In 1770, the Spanish government in Peru sent a group of explorers to Easter Island. The explorers spent four days on the island.  They found that there were about 3,000 native people living on the island. 

Unfortunately, as more and more explorers started visiting the island, they also had diseases that the local islanders had not been around before.  As a result, many of the native islanders died and by 1877, there were only 111 native people living on the island. 

By 1877, Catholic explorers had come to the island to convert, or teach and change the local people to, Christianity.  By the late 19th century, almost all of the people living on the island were Christians. 

In 1888, Chile started using the land to raise sheep.  The government of Chile also appointed a governor to be in charge of Easter Island in 1965, and the island’s people all became Chilean citizens. 

Easter Island is the shape of a triangle and measures 14 miles long by 7 miles wide. It was formed by a series of volcano eruptions over time.  The island has many hills and caves within the rocks that go way back into the mountains.  Because much of the rock on the island is made of volcanic rock, it is easy for the rock to form caves and holes over time. 

Easter Island’s largest volcano is called Rano Kao.  It has a highest point that its called Mount Terevaka that reaches 1,665 feet (or 508 meters) above the sea.  

Easter Island is a sub-tropical, which means it is located below the mid-point of the Earth called the equator and has sunny and dry weather. 

Easter Island does not have any natural bays to form harbours that are places for boats to be parked away from the harsh weather of the ocean. The island’s largest village is called Hanga Roa. It was made into a World Heritage site in 1995, so it will not be developed into a tourist place full of hotels and other developments. 

Today, Easter Island is home to a mixed group of people.  Many of the people living on the island have Polynesian ancestors, or older relatives. The locals now mostly speak Spanish and there are some tourists that visit during the year.

The History of Chocolate for Kids

With Easter just around the corner, many kids are getting very excited for one of the treats that often comes this time of year: chocolate!

Chocolate is a delicious treat and comes in many colours, flavours and forms including milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and hot chocolate.  But have you ever thought of where chocolate comes from?  

The history of chocolate began with the ancient Olmec and Mayan peoples of Central and South America.  The Mayan people were a large group of Indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America and the ancient Olmecs lived in southern Mexico before that. 

Back then, chocolate was very different than it is today.  It was a drink that people enjoyed. But it was not sweet.  It was bitter, which means having a sharp taste and was not sweet. 

Chocolate is made from cacao fruit, which comes from cacao trees which grow in hot places like Central and South America. This is why chocolate first came from these areas.  The beans from inside the cacao fruits are called cocoa beans after they are dried and roasted.  This is one of the first steps in the process of making cacao fruit beans into chocolate. 

Historians think that ancient Olmec and Maya people ground cocoa beans into powder and used it to make a chocolate flavoured drink.  The reason they think this is that there are traces of this type of powder found in old pots from ancient Olmec times.  This was around 15,000 B.C., which is a very very long time ago.

However, there is no written history from this time.  So it is not clear whether Olmec people made these drinks just for their flavour, or if it was part of a ceremony.  

The Olmec people passed their love of cacao on to their neighbours in Central America, the Mayans.  The Mayan people loved chocolate so much that they used it in their drinks and in their food.  They often made it into a thick, sweet and spicy drink, using honey to sweeten it.  And they sometimes added chilli peppers to make the drink spicy.  Have you ever tried spicy hot chocolate?  If not, it is something that you can find in some cafes today and is quite delicious, if you like spicy things.

After the Mayan people, the Aztec people came to live in the Central American and Mexican area.  They also developed a love of chocolate.  The Aztec people loved chocolate so much that they believed that cacao plants had been given to them by the gods.  They used cacao in some of their religious ceremonies.  They felt very lucky to have this drink. 

One of the things that people probably liked about cacao in the old days and that people still like about it today is that it contains caffeine. Caffeine is an ingredient that is found in tea and coffee plants that is a stimulant and makes people feel more awake and perky.  It is one of the main ingredients in coffee, and is one of the reasons why adults drink coffee, too. 

Aztec people liked to drink chocolate as a drink, either hot or cold.  They also added spices to their chocolate drinks and draft them out of special, decorated containers.  The Aztec people treated cacao beans like money.  They considered the beans to be more valuable than gold!

One famous Aztec chocolate lover was Montezuma II.  He was the ruler of the Aztec people in Mexico from 1502 to 1520.  Legends say that Montezuma II drank a gallon (or almost 4 litres) of chocolate drink per day!  He loved the taste and also believed that drinking it would make women fall in love with him. 

When Spanish explorers from Europe first arrived in Central America, they learned about chocolate.  These explorers included Christopher Columbus.  The European explorers loved chocolate as well once they tried it.  When they returned to Spain and other countries, they brought cacao beans with them.  In Spain, the Spanish people loved the drink and by the late 1500s, it had become a very popular drink throughout the country. 

As other European countries explored Central America, they also learned about cacao and brought beans back to their home countries.  That is how chocolate came to be popular across Europe in countries such as France and Italy. Europeans loved chocolate so much that a demand grew for cacao beans.  A demand is the desire of large groups of people to buy something.

Back in Central America, the European demand for chocolate meant that cacao plantations were growing in size and number.  The farmers that worked at these plantations were mostly local people who were treated as slaves.  A slave is a person who works very hard without proper pay or appreciation. The life of a slave cacao farmer was a very difficult life.  They worked hard from early morning to late at night picking beans for the European people.

The European explorers and traders continued to bring the beans back to Europe.  As European people continued to enjoy chocolate, the popularity spread.  Europeans started creating their own recipes for cacao beans as well.  Instead of just using the Central American recipes, they created different types of hot chocolate, using sugar, cinnamon and other spices.

About 150 years later, in 1828, a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houtan discovered a new way to make cacao powder. It was an easier way to create powder that would mix easily with hot water to make hot chocolate. The process through which van Houtan did this was later called “Dutch processing”.  The cacao powder that he made was similar to what we think of as hot chocolate powder today.  At the time it was called “Dutch cocoa.” 

Dutch cocoa powder made processing chocolate easier and cheaper than in the past.  As a result, even poor people could afford chocolate. This meant that chocolate grew even further in popularity.

Up until 1847, chocolate was primarily consumed in Europe and America as a drink, mixed with water or milk. However, in that year a company called J.S. Fry and Sons created the first chocolate bar in Britain.  They molded a paste made out of sugar, butter and chocolate and put it together into the shape of a bar. It was delicious and they knew they had a hit. Everyone who tried the solid chocolate loved it.  And a new form of chocolate was born.

By the late 19th century, family chocolate companies such as Cadbury, Mars, Nestle and Hershey were all making a variety of chocolate treats.  People across the world loved eating chocolate as well as drinking it.  There were therefore lots of customers to buy chocolate from these companies. 

Today, chocolate is still enjoyed by people around the world.  It is still available to drink, but it is more often eaten as a treat or dessert or in baking. It has changed a lot since the earliest versions of the bitter Olmec drink.  But the root of the treat is still the same. 

It is still very hard work to farm and produce chocolate however. While it is now easier than it was in the days of slaves and colonists, many cacao bean farmers still have to work very hard to produce their beans.  And they do not always get paid very much money for them. This has inspired many people throughout the world to focus on “fair trade” chocolate.  Fair trade means chocolate that is created in an ethical and sustainable way.  This means farming in a way that treats farmers fairly and without putting the environment at risk so that future generations can also meet their own needs.

Do you love eating chocolate as a treat?  Or drinking hot chocolate on a cold day? What are some of the types of chocolate that you like to eat or drink.  What would you try if you were challenged to come up with a new type of chocolate?  It is fun to think about they ways we can enjoy something so delicious and historic today.

The History of D-Day: Operation Overlord for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are cold and sitting in the back of the boat. The sky is cloudy and many airplanes are flying overhead. The water from the chilly ocean is splashing into your boat and as you look ahead you see a beach which you and your team of soldiers must invade. Bombs explode in the water around you. Your boat tries to navigate through spikes and landmines that are guarding the water leading up to the beach. A boat nearby you is sinking from an explosion. “Out of the boat! Out of the boat!” someone shouts. The ramp to the front of the boat goes down and you rush out with the other soldiers. You are very scared, but you know in order to win the war this beach must be taken back! It is D-Day and you are one of the Allied soldiers preparing to take Normandy Beach in France.

For many years Hitler and the German Army controlled France and many other countries in Europe. The main goal of the Allies was to kick Hitler and his army out of France and take the fight to Germany. The Allies were made up of many countries, but the main ones were the United States, England, France, Russia, and Canada. D-Day was one of the most important missions of the war because it would take place on the beaches of France where the Allies would start taking back Europe from Hitler. 

The United States General Eisenhower was made command of the D-Day operation in January 1944. The Allies knew they wanted to attack, but weren’t sure where. And part of the plan was to trick Hitler into believing the attack would be from somewhere else, so he wouldn’t be able to concentrate all of his forces in one place. The Allies used many tricks to go about this such as spies, secret agents, fake tanks, and fake radio messages. They even put one of their best generals, George Patton, in different area to confused Hitler. Over 3,200 reconnaissance missions were used to prepare for D-Day. Reconnaissance means to to spy on the enemy and do research to decide how to act next. The original name of the mission was Operation Overlord, and only later referred to as D-Day.

The plan was to attack the Germans on Normandy Beach. 5,000 ships and 11,000 airplanes were used during the attack. After the ships brought in the soldiers, the plan was to put them all on amphibious vehicles, move them to the beach, then the soldiers would attack the Germans guarding the beach.

But the morning before they started the attack the Allie’s planes dropped bombs on the Germans guarding the beach. French people living in a town nearby were awoken to the sound of bombs. A French villager lived near a house overlooking the beaches. He said: “I saw light coming from two bombs that exploded at the ridge of the cliff.” The Allies were doing everything they could to make sure the soldiers coming in on the beach would be safe.

The night before the invasion 24,000 soldiers also parachuted out of planes and landed behind the German army to help the troops who would be landing on the beach. These soldiers were called “paratroopers.”

One of the paratroopers was named Bob Nobles. He and his 16-man team flew in a plane across the English Channel. Just after midnight the light inside their plane told them it was time to jump out. They all lined up and one after another jumped out of the back of the plane. He said “By the time my parachute opened, I was on the ground!” He landed in a farmer’s field all by himself and took off his parachute. Then he hurried off on foot until he came across another paratrooper. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” the other paratrooper shouted. “I’m from Indiana! But I forgot the password!” They were supposed to have a password to know who was on their side and who was the enemy. Bob laughed as they looked for the rest of the teammates. But most of the other paratroopers had missed the drop zone, the place they were supposed to land.

These paratrooper missions proved to be very dangerous and a challenge in some cases where the soldiers landed in the wrong place or were captured or shot as soon as they landed. But in other cases the soldiers were able to regroup and take bridges and help the soldiers who would be landing on the beach the next day. 

The original plan was to attack on June 5th, but the weather was very bad, so it was put off until June 6th. In a message to troops before they left, General Eisenhower told them, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory…. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”

On June 6th 1944 starting at 6:30 a.m. the amphibious vehicles took the Allied troops from the ships to the beach. Amphibious means something that works in water and on land. These vehicles were designed to float like a boat and drive like a car!

Over 100,000 Allied soldiers attacked the beach at the same time! They were from many different countries like the United States, England, and Canada. The invasion was the largest amphibious landing and assault in history!

For many months the German Army had prepared for an attack on the beach. They had built many defenses armed with machine guns, barbed wire, land mines, so attacking the beach was extremely dangerous. 

One of the soldiers, Colonel Moulton, was on the amphibious landing craft with his soldiers. He told them to fire smoke bombs into the sky so they would be hidden from the enemy machine guns. It helped some, but their landing craft was still smashed up and some of the soldiers died when they hit the beach. Telling his story many years later, he said that the “Germans built concrete strong points in the villages and we landed right in front of one,” which caused much harm to his fellow soldiers.

Another soldier, Harry Timmins, said that when their landing craft came on the beach “the noise was more than you could possibly imagine. There were explosions all around us in the sea and the shells and mortars were kicking up sand all over the beach. A couple of buildings were on fire and the guns on our boat also joined in the barrage and deafened us.”

Many soldiers lost their lives as they came out of the landing vehicles. In some places the water was too high, so sadly they sank with all their heavy gear on. 

Another soldier, Robert Watson remembered that nothing went quite as planned. Everything took longer than expected and his landing craft was taking on a lot of water. “Landing craft were exploding all around me,” he remembered and got very sick in his boat. He remembered someone yelling “Get to the beach!” Then their craft hit a floating mine and they had to climb onto another craft to get the rest of the way to the beach. After he finally got to the beach he said, “I was scared my ammunition wouldn’t work” because it was wet. But he was able to fire shots without any problem and started firing at the enemy. The company of soldiers he started with had 62 soldiers. Only 36 of them were left after the attack. Many of his friends never made it to the beach. 

The beaches were given different codenames. Omaha Beach and Juno Beach had the most casualties. A casualty is when someone is hurt or dies in battle. By the end of the morning over 4,000 soldiers had died during the intense battle! 

By the time the battle was done the Allies had taken the beach and started moving into France. It was one of the most dangerous battles of World War II, but also one of the most important as well. Now that the Allies were in France they had shown the world and Hitler that they were very strong and would be able to win the war. The war continued on for many more days, but because of the sacrifices made on D-Day there was hope for the people of France and people all around the world that the war would come to an end.

Do you know anyone who has served in the military? Take some time to think about their bravery in deciding to serve and what courage it must take to decide to put your life on the line for your country. Think about those who gave their life on D-Day and how many of the freedoms you have exist, because someone else has given up their own time and sometimes even their life. There is a quote that says “Freedom isn’t free.” Freedom is often something that has to be fought for. Because of this, we shouldn’t take our own freedom for granted. Think about what you might do to keep freedom strong wherever you live. This might mean learning more about government and your local leaders. This might mean learning about different laws and voting when you are the right age. It might also mean serving in the military as well. Whatever you do to help, remember that freedom is a wonderful thing that not everyone has; and something we should never take for granted.

The History of St. Patrick’s Day for Kids

Imagine you are in Boston and it is March 17.  You are walking down the street with your family, when suddenly you hear a marching band in the distance.  It sounds loud and fun, with fiddles and pipes and drums.  What is that noise?  It is getting closer and closer and you stand by and watch as around the corner come hundreds of people dressed in green.  They are laughing and playing music.  Some are wearing red wigs and fake beards.  “What is going on?” you ask your parents.  “Why, it’s St. Patrick’s Day of course” they reply. 

St. Patrick’s Day is a special day that is celebrated around the world each year on March 17 to celebrate Irish culture and history.  It is also a date meant to remember the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick’s day has become a large celebration around the world of Irish culture and pride, with parades, special foods, dancing, music and people wearing all things green!

But what is the history of St. Patrick’s Day and why do we celebrate it? 

St. Patrick’s Day started as a day to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the 5th century and grew up with a father who was a deacon of their local church.  So even though St. Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland, he was not actually Irish but actually British. 

When Patrick was 16 years old, Irish raiders came to his village and he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave.  A slave is someone who is held captive and has to do work for another person for no money.  Patrick spent 6 years living in Ireland as a slave herdsman, taking care of cattle.  He was sad living as a slave and turned to prayer and religion to keep his spirits up.  He prayed regularly to escape so he could return home. 

One night when he was 24, Patrick snuck away from his master and got onto a ship headed back to Britain.  It was a difficult journey and Patrick didn’t have anything to eat on the way, so he nearly starved to death.  However, Patrick made it successfully to the other side of the sea to his own country of Britain. 

Patrick lived in Britain for a short while again.  But one day while reading about the Irish people, he felt called to return to Ireland and teach the Irish people about his religion, Christianity. Although he had doubts about whether it was a good idea, he decided to return to Ireland, this time as a free man. 

Patrick returned to Ireland and traveled broadly throughout the country, teaching people everywhere he went about his religion. It was a dangerous time to be traveling alone as a foreigner and trying to convert people.  To convert means to change people’s thinking so that they believe the same things as you.  However, Patrick had great faith in his mission and carried on, despite being arrested, put in chains, and threatened with death.

As Patrick traveled around Ireland and became more well known, myths and legends started to grow about him.  Myths and legends are imaginary stories. One of these legends was that Patrick scared all of the snakes in Ireland out of the country and into the sea where they died.  Some people believed that Patrick was also able to bring people back from the dead and that he was able to create food out of thin air. 

One of the most well known legends about St. Patrick is that he explained the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity to Irish people by using the three leaves of an Irish clover or shamrock.  Shamrocks have since become symbols of St. Patrick’s day. 

St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 A.D.  However, he did not actually become a saint until many years later, which is the normal process for Catholic sainthood.  March 17th became celebrated around the world as “St. Patrick’s day” at first to celebrate him, and later to celebrate Irish cultural heritage generally.  Cultural heritage means traditions and ways of life that have passed down through generations.

In Ireland today, St. Patrick’s day is celebrated as a religious holiday.  Irish families celebrate by going to church in the morning and having a party in the afternoon.  Irish people will usually dance and drink in their afternoon parties and eat a meal that includes meat, such as Irish bacon and cabbage. 

In America and other places with many Irish immigrants, St. Patricks day is celebrated on March 17, but with different traditions. In these countries, people of Irish descent hold large annual parades featuring bagpipes and drums. Many people wear green and dress up. 

The tradition started in America in the 1840s, when many Irish people left Ireland due to the Great Potato Famine of 1845.  A famine is an extreme shortage of food. In the 1840s, nearly 1 million poor Irish people moved to America to escape starvation in Ireland.  With so many Irish people now living in New York and other American cities, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations grew in size and popularity. 

In 1848, many New York Irish societies decided to join together to form one big St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Today, that parade is the largest parade in the United States with over 150,000 people participating each year and 3 million people watching on the side of the road.  There are also very large St. Patrick’s Day parades held in other cities, including Boston and Chicago.

As Irish immigrants spread out over the United States and around the world, cities and countries developed their own traditions.  This is especially true in the United States, Canada and Australia.  Some common traditions include wearing shamrocks, which represents St. Patrick’s teachings to the Irish people.  Many people like to plan Irish music, including fiddles and pipes, on St. Patrick’s day.  There is a tradition of people carrying a snake staff in St. Patrick’s day parades to represent St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland.  

In Chicago, the city even dyes the local river green for St. Patrick’s Day!

While Irish people eat bacon and cabbage on St. Patricks, Irish Americans now celebrate by eating a meal of corned beef and cabbage. This is because the first Irish immigrants to America were very poor and couldn’t afford the traditional bacon and cabbage that they ate back home. Instead they had corned beef and cabbage, having learned about this cheaper meat from their new Jewish neighbours in America. 

Many listeners will likely have heard about the small Irish imp called a “leprechaun”.  Leprechauns come from old Celtic belief in fairies, which were tiny, magical men and women. In old Celtic fairy tales, leprechauns were cranky little people that were responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Leprechauns were also believed to be hiding gold and would use trickery to protect their hiding places. Today, many people like to dress up as leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day. 

One tradition that many children are familiar with is the practice of pinching people on St. Patrick’s day if they are not wearing green. Because green came to be seen as the color of Irish pride amongst Irish people in America, pinching those who were not wearing green started as a gentle way of reprimanding those who were not showing Irish pride.  To reprimand means to scold or criticize someone.  However, now-of-days, kids do this mostly just for fun.  So don’t forget to wear something green on March 17th!

Have you ever seen and participated in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations?  What are some of the ways that your family celebrates their cultural heritage?  

If you do leave a comment or message on the Bedtime History Facebook or Instagram pages.  We’d love to hear more about your family and cultural celebrations.  And for those who celebrate, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

The History of Marie Curie for Kids

Imagine you are in Europe. The year is 1895 and you live in Poland. Life is changing quickly at this time. Many people have been moving to cities for work or to America to start a new life. But you are a happy child, loving life with your four older siblings. Your father is a math and science teacher and from him, you have come to love math and science as well. However, you do not yet realize that one day you will become one of the most famous scientists in the world. You are Marie Curie.

Marie Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1867. She was the youngest daughter of five children. When she was born, her name was Marie Sklodowska. She changed her name to Marie Curie later when she got married.

Marie had a happy child and she became interested in science at a young age. She was very smart and got good grades in school. Sadly when Marie was only 10, her mother died. She had become sick with tuberculosis. 

Marie was raised by her father and became more and more interested in math and physics. Physics is the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. Even though Marie got the top grades in her high school, she was not able to go to university when she graduated. The reason was because the university in Warsaw was a men’s-only university at the time.

Marie was very disappointed, but she continued to learn about the subjects she loved however she could. One way was through a secret school that taught university type courses at different locations around the city. Marie’s older sister Bronya also loved learning. Together the two girls dreamed of going to America to study at university there.

However Marie and Bronya were not rich. So they could not pursue this dream of studying in America together. To pursue means to seek to accomplish a goal over a long period of time. Despite this problem, Marie and Bronya did not give up in their hope of going to university. The two girls made a deal with each other. They would attend university in Europe. However, they would not go together. They decided that Marie would work and pay for Bronya to live and attend university in Europe. Afterwards, Bronya would work and pay for Marie to attend. 

For five years, from the age of 19-24, Marie worked as a tutor and nanny for children. She sent most of the money she made to her sister. And in her spare time, Marie would study and read about science and math. 

When she was 24, Marie moved to Paris and started attending university at the Sorbonne, a famous university in France. Marie received money every month from Bronya, however, it was not enough to live and eat well. Marie mostly ate bread and butter. Because she was not eating a healthy diet, Marie got sick often. 

Despite these hardships, Marie finished a master’s degree in physics and a degree in math. 

Shortly after Marie graduated from the Sorbonne, she met a man named Pierre Curie. Pierre was a professor of physics. A professor is a teacher and researcher in a college or university. Marie and Pierre were introduced by a friend of Marie’s in order for Marie to try to find lab space for an experiment she was going to conduct. 

Marie and Pierre fell in love and they were married in 1895. They both loved science and physics. They worked together investigating radioactivity. Radioactivity is a process in which parts of matter break down and create energy.

In 1898, the Curies discovered two new chemical elements, polonium and radium. This was an amazing discovery…

They were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903.

In 1906, Pierre had an unfortunate accident. He was knocked down by a carriage while crossing the road and he died. 

Marie took over his work after his death, including his teaching post at the Sorbonne. In doing so, she became the first woman to teach at the Sorbonne. She devoted herself to continuing the work that she and Pierre had started together.

In 1911, she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry. 

The work that the Curies did was important in the development of x-ray technology. X-rays are electromagnetic wave of high energy and very short wavelength. They are able to pass through many materials that light cannot. X-rays are used for surgeries and other medical procedures, as they are able to help create images of what is inside of our bodies. Doctors can then use these X-ray images to figure out what is wrong with someone and where to operate, if necessary. 

During World War I, Marie helped ambulances have x-ray machines. She also volunteered with the ambulances and drove to the front lines to help wounded soldiers. 

Marie became the head of the International Red Cross’s radiological service. The International Red Cross is an organization dedicated to protecting victims of international wars.

In the 1920s, when Marie was in her 50s, she developed leukaemia, which is a type of cancer.  This was due to her exposure to radiation from her research. She died on July 4, 1934.

Marie Curie’s determination and hard work during her lifetime brought about amazing scientific developments that impact us all still today. As a woman physicist, she was a trailblazer in her field and faced backlash for her participation. But Marie was strong and determined. And she persisted in doing the work that she loved anyways. As a result, our medical and scientific world was changed. 

Is there something that you are passionate about? With hard work and determination, like Marie Curie, you can also make a difference in the world and in the things you are interested in. The key is to carry on despite times that are hard or backlash from others that you face to your efforts. If you believe in something and want to make a difference, you can do it!

The History of Presidents’ Day: Childhoods for Kids

So in the United States today is President’s Day. Presidents Day is a day we celebrate the life and presidencies of individuals who served in the highest political office in our country. Today we thought it would be fun to focus on a part of their lives that is often overlooked — their childhoods. And I am lucky to know some of the smartest people who know a lot about the lives of the Presidents! Most of this material came from Brittany at The American Moms. Check them out on Instagram or their website theamericanmoms.com. They always share great ideas about how you can teach and inspire your kids. So once again, a big thanks to Brittany at The American Moms for all of the awesome research.

So even though all of these individuals rose to the highest office in the United States government, many of them came from very little. Most of us know about Abraham Lincoln. If you don’t know about his childhood, check out our episode about Honest Abe, because we go into a lot more detail there. But he lost his mother at a very young age and often was left alone by his father to take care of his little sister in the woods of Kentucky. He had to teach himself to read and didn’t go to a normal school. He had to learn to become a lawyer all by himself, and he still became the President of the United States. That’s pretty amazing, right?

Andrew Jackson was the 7th President of the United States. The year before Andrew Jackson was born his family immigrated (that means moved) to America from Ireland. Sadly, his father died just after Andrew was born and his mother hoped Andrew would become a minister in their church, but he was a pretty wild kid and that continued until he was an adult, so becoming a minister didn’t work out. When the American Revolution started — that is the war where American fought for it’s freedom from Great Britain — Andrew and his two brothers joined the war. Andrew was only 13-years old! Can you believe that? Sadly, during the war he lost one of his brothers and Andrew and his other brother was captured by the enemy, the British. While they were prisoners they became very sick with smallpox. Eventually, their mother arranged for their release and they were set free.

Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States. Millard was also born to a very poor family. Like Abraham Lincoln he was born in a log cabin to a family of farmers who often couldn’t feed him and his brothers and sisters. Because they didn’t have any money they sent Millard to be an apprentice cloth maker. An apprentice is someone who is in training by an expert clother maker in this case. While Millard worked there they paid his family a little so they could have food to eat. But as an apprentice Millard was treated badly. They worked him very hard. Eventually Millard saved up some money and bought himself his freedom. Then he walked 100 miles back to his family farm! From there on out he decided to educate himself and was so desperate to learn sometimes he stole books! It was a rough life, but he was dedicated to learning so he didn’t have to be poor and hungry like his parents. Like Abraham Lincoln, Millard taught himself to become a lawyer and became very successful at it. Often we think we can only learn by going to school, but that is not true! The people who become the best learners teach themselves things. You can do that, too! And believe it or not some day school will end, but it’s important to enjoy learning and keep on learning anyway!

James Garfield was the 20th President of the United States. As an adult he once said: “I never meet a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat.” Whe he meant was that even those you might see someone who doesn’t look like they could do much in life as a child, you never know and shouldn’t judge them by appearances. 


James was born in Ohio. He lost his father when he was only two-years-old. As the youngest, his mother and siblings were super protective of him, but had great hopes for him. They knew that whatever happened, James had to have an education. They did whatever they could to make it happen, saving every penny to send him to school. His mom even convinced local leaders to build a schoolhouse on her property, since that was the only way her children would ever receive an education. She really cared about their education!

But she was very sad when James quit school and went to work for a canal company. A canal is a man-made river that boats can move things up and down. Although James had never seen the ocean, he was fascinated by it. And working on a canal boat was the closest thing to his dream. 


Although James worked on the water, he had never learned how to swim. One night while working, he fell in the canal and almost drowned. Miraculously, he grabbed a hold of a rope and pulled himself in. The rope never should have been there and as James said “I took it as a sign that God had bigger plans for me.”

After this experience James returned home and decided to go back to school. He worked as a janitor and things began to improve for him. He quickly rose to the top of his class and was asked to be a teacher the next year. 

Theodore (or Teddy) Roosevelt was the 26th POTUS. When he was little his family was wealthy, unlike many of the other presidents, but Teddy was always very sick. Often his kind father would carry him around at night or take him on carriage rides while he was coughing. His mother tried to be very protective of Teddy, but his father took a different path. His father said he needed to work his body to become stronger rather than stay inside. Teddy spent much of his childhood exploring the woods, studying out the creatures around their home, drawing pictures of them. Later he went on to become a very smart man who knew a lot about nature and animals. He started museums because of his love for science. He also created the first National Parks to protect wildlife and nature. In his teenage years he spent a lot of time living what he called “the strenuous life.” He lifted weights and boxed and ran and worked hard to become stronger. Eventually, his sickness went away and he became a strong and courageous man. He became known for his rough lifestyle and love for adventure.

Spend some time thinking about these incredible people and what they went through as children. Even though they had very little or had hard childhoods they were able to teach themselves, work hard and do great things. Teddy Roosevelt exercised and explored the natural world around him. That helped him grow. Think about what you can do to improve your situation like these presidents did. As children they are no different than you. But the choices they made, made all the difference. For you it might be setting a goal to read a little more, or finding a new hobby that interests you, or helping a sibling who needs you. All of these little steps each day make a difference and change your character in ways that will last a lifetime.

I hoped you learned some new things about presidents. I know I did! A big thanks again to Brittany at The American Moms. Be sure to check them out! Have a Happy Presidents Day and talk to you next time!

The History of Walt Disney for Kids

So as a family one of our favorite activities is watching movies together. Often because they are so many of us we skip the theater and just pop popcorn and cuddle up together on the couch and watch our favorite movies from home. Movies are sort of like going on a little journey together. We laugh together; they are happy parts and sad parts, scary parts and fun parts, we feel many of the same emotions as the characters in the movie. I have great memories watching my favorite movies growing up like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Sometimes I imagined going on adventures like my movie heroes. I liked to make up scripts for my own movies and cast my little brothers and sisters as parts and sometimes we even filmed them. 

Some of my other favorites movies growing up were Disney movies. Have you heard of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty or Pinnochio? What about Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King? Have you heard of Walt Disney before? If not you’ve surely heard of Disney movies or Disneyland. Did you know they all started with the imagination of a man named Walt Disney? 

Many years ago Walt Disney was a child just like you. Walt was born on December 5, 1901, a little over one hundred years ago in Chicago. His parents names were Elias and Flora Disney. They were very different in many ways. His father, Elias was a hard worker, a perfectionist and could be very stern at times. But their mother Flora was known to laugh a lot and be very warm and kind. 

A few years after Walt was born his family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri. Walt loved living in the countryside. There were woods and lots of animals and many of Walt’s best memories were growing up in Marceline. There was a downtown in Marceline and Walt loved watching the trains chugging into town to stop to drop off and pick up passengers. Much of his inspiration for Main Street U.S.A in Disneyland came from his fond memories of Marceline. 

Around this time Walt started drawing. He often practiced by copying the comics in the newspaper and once the local doctor even paid him to draw a picture of his horse. 

In 1911 the Disney family moved to Kansas City, Missouri where his father owned a newspaper route. A newspaper route meant that every morning Walt and his brothers woke up very early every morning to take newspapers to everyone in town. It was very hard work and often Walt didn’t want to do it, but he helped the best he could to take care of the family. Many days he fell asleep in class because he was so tired from the morning newspaper route. 

For fun little Walt liked to act and makeup plays with his friends and family members. He even tried out for a play at school and played Peter Pan. He and his brother even made a contraption using a wire so it would look like he was flying! But when they tried to use it the wire broke and he flew into the crowd!  

Walt continued to practice drawing and told his father he wanted to be an artist for a living. In high school he drew cartoons for the school newspaper and at night he took classes from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He knew to be a great artist he’d need lots and lots of practice! 

During this time Europe was at war in what is known as World War I. Walt wanted to join the army but was too young at the time. He heard many young people were joining the Red Cross. The Red Cross helps take of soldiers who were injured during the war and others in need. But Walt was also too young to be in the Red Cross. So when he went to turn in his papers to join, he changed his birthdate so they would think he was older! 

By the time Walt made it to Europe the war was over, but he helped drive an ambulance and used his drawing skills to paint cartoons on the side of his ambulance and others. He also had some of his drawings published in the Stars and Stripes army magazine. 

After returning home to the United States, Walt got a job drawing advertisements for a magazine. An advertisement is used to try and sell something. At this job he met another young artist named Ub Iwerks. Before long, Walt and Ub were out of a job and started their own company doing advertisements. Walt also became very interested in animation. Animation is pictures that move. Most of the cartoons that you see are animation — basically many pictures switching quickly to make it look like they are moving. Walt bought a camera and started tinkering with animation at home. He spent many hours drawing and taking pictures, trying to figure out how to make good looking animations.

Before long, Walt and Ub’s animations were good enough to be sold as short movies. They called them Laugh-o-Grams and many of their animations were shown before real movies at the theater. Eventually they moved to Hollywood which was where all of the newest movies were being made. In Hollywood he and his brother Roy started Disney Brothers Studios. There Walt also met his wife, Lillian. For a few years Walt continued to make his animated movies but had trouble staying in business. There are many times when he could have given up, but he loved animation and kept on trying even when they failed. At one time someone stole his favorite character, a cartoon rabbit, which he had named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. 

After Walt found out he could no longer use his Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for his movies, he was on a long train ride with his wife from New York back to his home in Hollywood. He decided his newest cartoon character would be a mouse and he would name him … Mortimer Mouse. His wife, Lillian, thought that wasn’t a very good name and he should name him Mickey Mouse instead. And this was the beginning of the world famous cartoon character, Mickey Mouse!

Back in Hollywood, and together with Ubb Iwerks, they began animated their new cartoon, Mickey Mouse. And for their first movies, Walt even did the voice for Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse’s first big movie was called Steamboat Willie. Be sure to look it up on the Internet when you get a chance. It’s black and white, but it’s Mickey Mouse riding a steamboat and whistling a fun tune. Steamboat Willie showed before real moves in the theater, but was a hit. Disney Brothers Studio did other animated movies like The Skeleton Dance and eventually Flowers and Trees, which was one of the first animated movies to use Technicolor — which means it was in color, no longer black and white. 

For many years Walt and Lillian wanted to be parents, but had trouble having children. Finally in 1933, Lillian gave birth to a daughter who they named Diane. Walt was so excited to be a dad and spent a lot of time having fun with his daughter. Often she would spend time at the animation studio watching as her father and others created their cartoons.

With the success of all of their animated movies, Disney Brothers Studio began to grow and grow and soon hundreds of animators worked for Walt Disney. Because there was so much to do Walt no longer drew the pictures, he worked on the stories and music — and his brother Roy helped with the business, taking care of the money and paying all of the animators who worked for them. 

But Walt was always wanting to do something new and exciting. He was also driven to create the biggest and best animations, so his next big project would be a full animated movie. Before this time all of the cartoons were just short movies, but Walt wanted to do a longer one. At the time no one thought anyone would want to watch a full cartoon movie, but Walt didn’t agree. His brother, Roy, wasn’t sure if they could pay for it, and many others thought for sure this would be the end of Disney Brother’s Studios. But Walt didn’t care, he believed in what they were doing and moved forward anyway.

One of Walt’s favorite fairy tales growing up was Snow White, which told the story of a young girl named Snow White, who was being hunted by a wicked witch. During her adventures she meets a band of dwarves who help save her from the witch. Walt had decided this would be his first animated movie and held a meeting with all of his animators. There he told them the story of Snow White and acted out all of the parts — then they got to work! Drawing all of the animations for Snow White took many hundred animators, 4 years of hard work and $1.5 million dollars to create. It took a lot longer and cost a lot more than they had planned, but when it was finally released all of the popular actors and actresses in Hollywood all showed up to the Carthay Theater to watch Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. To Walt’s delight, the movie was a huge hit! People all over the world loved the movie and they ended up earning all their money back within a few months. Audiences were amazed by what they saw. The animation and color were beautiful. The sound and music was well done. Walt Disney had proved them wrong! 

Walt Disney and his animators continued to make animated movies — next Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi during a time period which came to be known as the Golden Age of Animation. Other classics included Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. Disney Animation Studios also made live action movies, which means movies with real people and sets. Such movies included Treasure Island, The Ballad of Davy Crockett, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Mary Poppins. 

By this time, Walt Disney and his studio had become very profitable, which means they had a lot of extra money to try new things. For many years, Walt had been toying with the idea of doing something, very big and very different! 

In our next episode we’re excited to tell you the story of Walt Disney’s next big dream, the making of a theme park that parents and kids could enjoy alike — the one and only Disneyland! 

Thanks for listening! We appreciate all of your great reviews and kind words. Your support keeps us going. Also, if you love our stories and would like to read them to your kids — we have a book on Amazon. Just search for Bedtime History. Talk to you next time!

The History of Martin Luther King, Jr. for Kids

So this coming month, February, is “Black History Month” in the United States and Canada.  Black History Month is a time for us to remember important people and events in the history of people of African descent around the world and in our countries. Black History Month can be traced back to 1926 when Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week to recognize the achievements made by African Americans.  Carter Woodson was a Harvard university graduate and he chose February as the month to celebrate black history because the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were both in February.  

We thought that for this month’s first episode of Bedtime History, we would focus on one of the great black rights activists and civil rights leaders of American history, Martin Luther King Jr.  Civil rights are the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia.  His dad was a pastor and his mother was a school teacher.  A pastor is a minister in charge of a Christian church or congregation.  Martin also had an older sister named Cristine and a younger brother named Alfred.  They grew up in a wealthy area of Atlanta called “Sweet Auburn” where many black families lived at the time.

Martin knew from a young age that he enjoyed a great childhood and a good education that not many black children in America at the time had access to.  It inspired him to want to help other black children have the same opportunities to live a good life.  He was also inspired by his father, who worked hard on activities to try to improve the lives of black people and achieve equality.

Martin was a very good student and he worked hard to get good grades.  Because of his hard work, he got into a good college when he was 15 to study law and medicine.  It was called Morehouse College and was the same college that his father and his grandfather had attended.

Even though Martin did not originally plan to become a pastor like his father, he became more and more interested in religious studies and politics during his time at college.  Martin decided to finish a Bachelor of Divinity degree so that he could become a pastor too.  

Martin was a popular student, even though he was one of the only black students in a mostly white student college.  He finished his degree in 1948 and was elected president of his class in his final year of college.

After he graduated, Martin moved to Boston to attend Boston University when he was 24.  While he was there and studying for a higher level degree, he met Coretta Scott.  Coretta was a singer from Alabama who was also in college in Boston.  She was studying music at the New England Conservatory of Music. 

Martin and Coretta fell in love and got married in 1953.  After Martin’s studies were finished, they moved to Montgomery, Alabama.  Martin became the pastor of a church there called the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  He was a great pastor and had a special gift of being a very good public speaker.  People always paid attention to what he had to say because he was well spoken and delivered his sermons in a very convincing style.

Martin and Coretta had been living in Montgomery for a short time when they started to have children.  At the time, the city of Montgomery also became the centre for the civil rights struggle in America.  The city was very segregated.  This means that black and white people were divided and expected to live apart from each other.  Some people challenged the rules that forced them to live apart.  This led to a court decision about segregation of students in schools.  The court decision decided that while black and white kids had been separated in the past, they were now allowed to go to school together. 

The decision was a great victory for those who wanted equality for all people and the end of segregation.  However, the decision made some people who disagreed with these changes very angry. At the time, there was a lot of racism in the area. Racism means to have negative thoughts and actions towards people of a different race based on the belief that your own race is better.  

The fight over civil rights grew greater in 1955.  That year, a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus and she was arrested. The rules at the time said that she was supposed to sit in the back of the bus in the segregated section for black people.  However, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus to protest this rule. To protest means to do something to show you are against a rule or law.

Rosa Parks’ arrest made a number of people angry.  A group of activists got together and decided to stop using the bus as a protest.  An activist is someone who works to bring about political or social change. Activist groups started taking more and more actions to try to change the rules that limited equality for black people and separated blacks and whites. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. became the leader and spokesman of the activist group at the time. Martin started speaking as the leader of a group trying to fight racism and bring about equality peacefully.  Martin admired Mahatma Ghandi and other peaceful activists from around the world and history.  Ghandi and others were people who taught that the way to bring about real change in society was to protest but not to be violent.

Even though Martin was trying to change things peacefully, many people disagreed with him. Many of these people threatened him and his family. Some even tried to set his house on fire. This was very scary for Martin and his family, especially now that they had four young children. Even though it was a scary time for Martin and his family, they were proud of the success of their protests and how many people had joined the cause for equality.

Next Martin began traveling across America and giving talks to big groups on civil rights and nonviolent protest.  His messages were becoming more and more popular, but also causing more and more people to be angry with him. 

Many people fought very hard for equality and the rights of black people and many people fought against these ideas.  Most of the protests were peaceful but some became violent when protesters and those against them became heated.

In 1963, Martin and his friends protested segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, which was one of the most racially divided cities in the United States. Martin was arrested and had to spend time in jail. It was a sad time for him because he was away from his family, but he used this time to write letters to those who opposed him, peacefully trying to convince them of why equality was right and good.

Later that year, when he got out of prison, Martin organized a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  A march is a type of protest in which people walk along public roads in an organized way to protest about something.  The march was peaceful and it was attended by around 250,000 people!  

At the March on Washington, Martin gave his famous speech, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.  It called for a peaceful world in which all people are treated as equals.  Many people around the world watched Martin Luther King, Jr. give this speech in person and on TV.  Later that year, he was named “Man of the Year” by TIME magazine. 

In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. also became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  He was only 35 years old. And in August 1965, the US Congress passed a law that gave all black Americans the right to vote. This was a big step and would not have come about at that time if not for the hard work of Martin and his fellow activists.

Unfortunately a few years later, Martin’s life and work were cut short when he was shot and killed.  He was standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee when someone shot him. The killer was a man that had escaped prison.  He was later caught and sent to prison.

People across the country were saddened by Martin’s death. The president at the time declared a national day of mourning, which was meant to be a time for the entire country to express sorrow over Martin’s death.  Later, in 1983, the US created a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is known as Martin Luther King Day and is on the third Monday of January each year. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a brave and hardworking man.  He fought hard for the things that he believed in and to help others.  He believed in equality and human rights for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, skin colour or how rich or poor someone is. And he did so by always being peaceful.  He was truly an incredible man.

There is still much work to be done as society works towards Martin’s dream of “full equality”.  But by learning about Martin and his life and work, you can join the conversation and become part of the efforts that are still underway in your country to bring about full and meaningful equality to all people. And the ways in which you can help society become a more peaceful, equal and loving place. 

If you haven’t already heard it, I would recommend that you listen to the full audio of Martin’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  It is one of the most famous and amazing speeches of all time.