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. 

The Malala Yousafzai Story for Kids

Imagine you live in a country far away.  It is a poor country with war and where girls are not allowed to go to school.  But your parents are kind and smart.  They think that boys and girls should both go to school and they want you to go to school too.  But you are a girl and it is not allowed.  What would you do?  

This was the experience of a young girl named Malala Yousafzai.  Malala was a girl from Pakistan.  She was only 11 years old when she started to get noticed for standing up for girls rights.  Malala was brave and strong and she stood up for what she believed and as a result, she ended up changing her country and the world. 

Malala was born on July 12, 1997 in Mingora, Swat Valley, Pakistan. For the first few years of her life, Malala’s hometown was a popular place for people to visit on vacation.  People from around the country would visit the town for summer festivals. 

Unfortunately, the town and the country started to change when a new government took control of the country.  A government is a group of people that make decisions about how a country will work and the rules that the people in the country will follow.  In Pakistan at that time that Malala was a young girl, a very strict government called the Taliban tried to take control.

Malala lived at home with her father and mother when she was a girl.  Her father’s name was Ziauddin Yousafzai and he was a schoolmaster at a local school and someone who believed strongly in his ideas that all children should go to school. Malala’s mother’s name was Toorpekai Yousafzai and she cared for Malala and her siblings.

The Taliban told people from Pakistan that they should not let girls go to school anymore.  It was an old fashioned idea that they wanted to bring back to the country.  However, Malala’s father disagreed with this idea.  He thought that all kids should get to go to school so that they could learn important life skills and take care of themselves and get good jobs.

Malala’s father ran one of the last girls schools that continued to run even though the Taliban government told all the girls schools to shut down. Instead of listening to the government’s orders, Malala’s dad kept letting girls to attend his school, including Malala.  He encouraged her to speak out about what the government was doing. Malala learned from a very early age that this was very important to girls and to her country.

Malala listened to her father and on September 1, 2008, when she was 11 years old, she gave her first speech at a community hall in Peshawar.  The title of her speech was, “How Dare the Taliban Take Away my Basic Right to Education?”  It was a speech that was about her opinion that the Taliban government should not close down girls schools or forbid them from attending.

It was a scary time in Pakistan for people to speak out about the government.  The Taliban government was very strict and very powerful.  Strict means to tell people that they have to behave a certain way and exactly what they have to do so they won’t get in trouble.  They scared Malala and others who spoke out about them and disagreed with what they were doing.

Because Malala did not want to get in trouble, she started writing using a fake name to write articles: Gul Makai.  She wrote articles on the internet for a famous news company from Britain called the BBC.  Malala wrote about what it was like to live with such a strict government and the articles were published for people from all around the world to see.  She thought she was safe because her identity was secret.  However someone found out who she was and told other people that it was Malala who was writing the articles.

The Taliban government was angry at Malala for saying bad things about them and the things that they believed and their rules.  They decided that they wanted to kill Malala and her family so that she could not speak out about them anymore. 

Even though Malala was frightened for safety and her family’s safety, she didn’t think think that Taliban government would hurt her because she was a kid and so she carried on with her speeches. One day when she was 15 years old and riding the bus home from school, some Taliban people got on the bus and shot her.  She was hurt very badly but she did not die.

Malala needed to go to a special hospital, so she got flown out of her country of Pakistan on an airplane to England. Once she was in England, she was safe from the Taliban government but she was still very hurt.  She had to have a number of surgeries at a hospital in order to get better.  She healed very well and within one year, she was able to start going to school again.  This time she stayed in England and went to school there.

Later that year, after Malala was feeling better, she was invited to speak at the United Nations in New York City, in America.  It was the first time that she spoke in public again since she was attacked.  Malala’s speech was on her 16th birthday and her topic was on the rights of every child to go to school.  She said in her speech that all governments around the world should make policies that allow girls to go to school.  Policies means a rule or law that allows people to do something.

In the speeches she gave after her attack, Malala talked about the courage that she had developed after her injury.  She said that the Taliban government “thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”

Malala received a lot of awards for her bravery.  When she was 15 she published a book about her life called, “I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World”.  One of the most important awards that she received was the United Nations Human Rights Prize, which is an important award that is only given every five years.

Another important award Malala received was the Nobel Peace Prize. She was 17 when she received it, and she was the youngest person to ever get the award. When Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif said: Malala “is (the) pride of Pakistan, she has made her countrymen proud. Her achievement is unparalleled and unequaled. Girls and boys of the world should take lead from her struggle and commitment.” 

At the same time, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Malala was “a brave and gentle advocate of peace who, through the simple act of going to school, became a global teacher.”  At Malala’s 2013 speech at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that July 12th, which is Malala’s birthday,  would now be called ‘Malala Day’.  This was in honor of the work that Malala to ensure education for all children.

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Today Malala continues to do work to try to help children around the world.  She has worked hard to raise money so that other girls can go to school.  She is now going to university to study philosophy, politics and economics.  These are subjects that teach people how the world works and how to make it a better place through rules and policies.  Malala plans to continue to work to make the world a better place for all children.  She also wants to keep making sure that girls all around the world can go to school.

Is there something that you think would make the world a better place?  Is there something that you notice is unfair to yourself, your family or to others?  Think about the things that would be good to change in the world around you to make the world a fair and positive place for all people.  Perhaps there are people you know that don’t have a lot of money?  Or people that are not treated well?  If there are things in the world that you think should be changed, you can change them!

Malala was taught from a young age that there is power in words and in speaking up for what you believe in.  If there are things you can see that would make the world better, you can help by speaking to others about what you believe and by standing up for those who need help.  It is important that we all think about the things we can do to make the world a better place.  And is important that we have courage to speak out about the things that are unfair or unkind. 

Courage means to be brave even when you are scared.  Malala was brave by standing up for girls’ rights to go to school, even when the Taliban government told her not to.  She continued to speak out about this even if it meant that she may get hurt, because she knew it was an important topic.  Going to school is one of the most important ways that people can learn to create a good life for themselves and others.  So it is equally important that both boys and girls go to school.

We can all learn from Malala about the importance of education and about the importance of conviction, or staying true to your beliefs.  Even when it is difficult, it is important to stick with what you believe in and work towards creating a positive world for yourself and others.  

Malala’s bravery had many positive impacts.  One of the most important things that happened because of her bravery was the attention that her story brought to the issue about girls going to school in Pakistan.  As a result, Pakistan created its very first Right to Education Bill, which said that all children have the right to go to school. 

What would you like to do to change the world for the better?  What can you do to stand up for others and make the world a better place like Malala? 

History of Mahatma Gandhi for Kids

Have you heard ever heard of a country called India? India is between China and the Middle East and much of it is surrounded by the Indian Ocean. India is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations and for many years was one of the richest countries in the world. Over one billion people live in India. It has more people than any other country in the world, second only to China. 

In the 1800s the British Empire ruled many countries of the world including America. During the American Revolution the Patriots fought off the British King and his soldiers and became their own free country. At the time of our story the British Empire was still in control of India. This is the story of how India came to be free and the man who helped make it happen.

In 1869 in the city of Porbander, India a boy named Mahandas Ghandi was born in a small home to a simple family. The Ghandis were good people. The father was a leader in the city and his mother was a very religious woman. She taught her children to pray and read scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Vegas, and some texts from the Bible and Quaran. The Ghandis were Hindu, so they didn’t drinking wine or eat meat. Ghandi’s mother also taught the family to fast — which means going without food for a certain period of time. She believed it gave them strength and self control. 

When Mahandas was little he was very playful and sometimes liked to cause trouble. Often he would chase down dogs and twist their ears. He also loved to listen to classic Indian stories, such as the stories of Shravan and Harischandra, which were epic tales about virtue and adventure. These stories taught good principles and helped Mahandas want to be a good person.

At age nine Mahandas started school and there learned math, history, language and geography. He was just an okay student and pretty shy and had trouble speaking. This made him very nervous when he had to speak in front of his class, but he did like books and learning.

At this time in India people got married very young. Mahandas was 13 when he married a girl named Kasturba. When Kasturba was 17 they had their first baby, but sadly she didn’t live very long. This same year Mahandas also lost his father, so it was a very hard time for him. But later Mahandas and Kasturba had four more children, so it made them happy to be parents.

Next Ghandi decided to travel to London, the capital of the British Empire, to go to college to become a lawyer. A lawyer is someone who helps others work with the law, the rules that keep a country in order. Ghandi’s parents were worried while he was there he wouldn’t live his religion, that he would eat meat and drink alcohol and do other things they didn’t approve of. But when he left he promised them he would stay faithful no matter what. And Ghandi did live up to his word, he stayed strong in his Hindu religion while he was away from home. This is called commitment and dedication to something you believe in.

Ghandi learned a lot about the English people while he was in London. He had always been shy and at first school was difficult, but instead of giving up he joined a group that taught him how to speak louder and more clearly and with lots of practice he became a very good speaker.

After finishing college, Ghandi got a job working for a shipping company in South Africa. At this time the British Empire also ruled South Africa. In South Africa Ghandi was treated badly by the English because he was from India. Once when he was on a train they didn’t let him sit with other people. They picked him up and threw him off the train. Ghandi was so upset by this he refused to leave the train station until they let him on the next train. This is called a protest. Finally, they let Ghandi back on the train. Many times Ghandi was treated badly because he was from India. He started to think England shouldn’t be in control of India anymore. 

When Ghandi moved back to India and he was determined to do everything he could to make India a free country. He began speaking and writing about what the India people needed to do to become free. But Ghandi was a peaceful person and didn’t believe in hurting others to become free. Instead they would peacefully protest and use civil disobedience — which means finding other ways to make your point other than violence. 

One thing England did to control India was tax the things they bought, this meant charging extra for food and clothes and keeping the money. So instead of buying clothes and salt from England, Ghandi decided to make his own clothes and salt. He learned how to make his own clothes and started wearing them. Thousands of other India people started doing the same. This made the British upset, because they were losing money. To make his own salt, Ghandi began a journey to the ocean. He walked over 200 miles to make salt in the ocean. People all over India followed him and did the same. All across the world people saw what Ghandi and the India people were doing and sympathized with them. Ghandi was put in jail many times for his actions. He would go without eating until they would set him free. What Ghandi was doing was very difficult, but he was sacrificing his owns desires for the country and people he loved.

Sometimes the Indian people wanted to use guns and weapons to fight the British leaders, but Ghandi continually taught that this was the wrong way. He used scriptures of many different religions to show that peace was a better way. When his people did start to fight Ghandi would go without eating for many days until they stopped. The people often stopped because they loved Ghandi and didn’t want him to be hungry.

Eventually, England let India become free. The amazing part of this story is that it came about without a big war and lots of people dying. This was truly a miracle and Ghandi showed the world that freedom can come about through peaceful ways. The Indian people and Ghandi celebrated. They were so happy to be in control of their own country. The time after this was very challenging as they figured out how to be on their own, but it gave them a chance to make their own choices and be a free people.

Not long after India became free Ghandi passed away, but his mission was complete and the Indian people and people all across the world will remember him as someone who loved his people and gave his life for them.

In life it’s easy to focus on yourself and what makes you happy. Its natural for us to want to take care of ourselves, which is important to some degree. But giving of ourselves to help others is also very important. It’s important to share and to think about what makes others happy. Spend some time thinking about what makes others happy and then do something about it. Next time you have a treat think about how happy it will make others to taste it, too. If you are playing with a toy, think about how your brother or sister or friend might enjoy playing with it. 

Ghandi believed in being peaceful. Next time someone wants to fight with you or argue, think about a more peaceful way you can deal with the problem. You never know, in the end someone who you think is an enemy might become a friend.

History of Nellie Blye for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine leaving your home and traveling all the way around the world. You would cross oceans, meet new people, try new foods, see new places. It would be an exciting journey, even dangerous at times, but it would change the way you see everything… Today we are going to learn about a woman who did just that … and finished the journey faster than anyone else in the world. This is a story of daring and adventure. This is the story of the fearless Nellie Blye.

When Nellie Blye was little she lived in a time when kids didn’t go to school most of the day. Instead they worked long days. Nellie had a big family with fifteen brothers and sisters who all worked in their father’s mill. A mill is a place where wheat is ground in flour to make bread. Here she learned to work hard and have determination. Determination is trying and trying and trying, and not giving up until you finish something.

Nellie loved to wear the color pink. [kids laughing and playing] One day her friend said: “You wear pink so much, we’re going to call you ‘pinky’!” From then on she had the nickname “pinky.”

Nellie also loved to write. She practiced writing so often she became very good at it. When she got a little older, she became a journalist. [newspaper press] A journalist is someone who writes for the newspaper. Nellie was also very curious and loved learning about new things … and she wrote the new things she learned in the newspaper. Her stories soon made her very famous.

One day Nellie was reading a book called “Around the World in 80 Days” about a man who travelled around the world. Even though the book wasn’t a true story, Nellie wanted to do it herself … and believed she could. Other people told her it would be too dangerous, or that because she was a girl she couldn’t do it. They told her she needed someone strong to protect her. But Nellie was independent and brave and believed she could do it on her own.

Nellie packed her clothes and other things into a bag [luggage sound] and [ship sounds] went to the dock where the ship was waiting. Everyone cheered and waved good bye as the ship set sail.

At sea Nellie became sea sick. Sea sick is when someone not used to the ocean gets very sick from the boat rocking in the water. But even though it was hard she was sick she kept going, she was determined to finish the journey.

Next the ship landed in England, from here she went to [train sound] France and finally to Asia. Sometimes she travelled by boat, someones by train. She tasted new foods, [jungle sounds, monkey] went alligator hunting, bought a monkey, and rode ponies across Hong Kong. Newspapers all over the world were keeping track of Nellie Blye. All of the world was watching to see how fast she would finish her trip.

When she returned to America, while traveling across the country people [crowds, cheering] waved to her along the way, gave her flowers and fruit, and shook her hand. Girls and boys saw what Nellie was doing and realized they could do difficult things too.

By the time she got home, she had travelled 25,000 miles in 72 days. It was a very long trip and she was tired and glad to be home. Because Nellie was brave and believed in herself, other women saw that they could do adventurous things too. She was an inspiration to all.

Like Nellie, you can learn to work and be determined — to keep trying and trying and not give up even when something is hard. You can be curious. You can imagine new things and do them even when others doubt in you or no one else has done them before. It may take learning new things and lots of practice and courage but you can do it if you keep trying.