5 Facts To Share With Kids About Martin Luther King Jr.

Get to know the influential civil rights leader and how we celebrate him today

By Macaroni KID January 4, 2023

Take the opportunity, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to share with your kids the influence King — the most influential civil rights leader in American history — has had on our country, as well as the meaning behind the holiday now.

Here are five facts you can share with kids about Martin Luther King Jr. Some are interesting to kids, while others are important to his legacy:

1. He skipped two grades

Martin Luther King Jr. was such a good student he skipped both the 9th and 12th grades and entered college when he was only 15 years old. He attended Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather, and eventually earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University.

 rattanakun via Canva

Virtual event for teens:

The King Center in Atlanta is hosting a virtual Beloved Community Global Youth Summit Jan. 12 for ages 13-18. 

From the King Center: This is all about cultivating the mindset to seize moments and movements that powerfully and positively transform us, our homes, our schools, our communities…our world. That’s a Beloved Community Mindset.

Register now for this free event.

2. King improvised the most recognized lines from his most famous speech

In August of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. helped to organize the famous March on Washington where more than 250,000 people joined together to show their support of equal rights for everyone — including advocating for an end to segregation in public schools, protection from police abuse, and to get laws preventing discrimination in employment. It was here that MLK delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

But the final draft he had on stage with him at the event did not include that line. 

3. His birth name was Michael

MLK was actually named Michael King Jr. at birth, after his father. When Martin Luther King Jr. was five, his father changed both of their names to Martin Luther to honor an important leader of the German Protestant church.

 katiekaboom via Pixabay

4. He got the idea of nonviolent protests from Jesus and Gandhi

King said in his book, Stride Toward Freedom, that his philosophy of nonviolence was inspired by Jesus, while he found inspiration in the techniques of nonviolence from Gandhi. 

King identified the six principles of nonviolence:

  • Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people
  • Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding
  • Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, or evil, not people
  • Nonviolence holds that unearned, voluntary suffering for a just cause can educate and transform people and societies
  • Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate
  • Nonviolence believes the universe is on the side of justice

Read more about King's philosophy from the King Center in Atlanta, Ga.

5. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day of service

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service, encouraging Americans young and old to volunteer to improve their communities. AmeriCorps has led this effort for the last quarter-century. The organization encourages:

  • Engaging with your community and creating constructive action
  • Acting on Dr. King’s legacy of social justice and equity
  • Volunteering to serve others

Some ideas of service projects that young kids can take part in: Clean up a public space, fill local food pantries, or make no-sew fleece blankets for those in need.

Find or register for a volunteer opportunity in your town!