MLK’s Inspiration and Legacy Felt Decades Later in Children’s Books

We commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, as well as shine a light on children’s books inspired by the man behind the movement for equality.

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Black and white of Martin Luther King Jr. waving to a crowd of people. He and the crowd are outside. There are trees behind them. They seem to be a park.

On this Civil Rights Day, notably Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we honor the man behind the movement for equality. It was on January 15, 1929, that Dr. King was born in the segregated south of Atlanta, Georgia. It is here where he began his discovery of how different Black people were treated, and he would go on to helm one of the biggest movements that would change the course of history in the US. Like his grandfather and father before him, King was ordained as a minister and began preaching from the pulpit the idea of a world where all people were treated as equals. King fought for racial justice in an unjust society, and he did so through non-violent means, staging sit-ins and marches throughout the country.

King’s Dream

On August 28, 1963, King stood before a crowd of 250,000 people in Washington D.C. and delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.”

I Have a Dream speech, Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. speaking.

His Activism and Achievements

  • In 1955, at the age of 25, King and the Black community in Montgomery, Alabama, staged a successful bus boycott after the historical incident of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. The boycott lasted over a year, during which King and other activists were arrested. One of King’s most pivotal moments was the undertaking of organizing such a movement, which ushered him into the leadership role after his imprisonment.
  • Inspired by Ghandi’s way of protesting through peaceful resistance, King also sought to protest through nonviolence. He, along with other Black Church leaders in the South, established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in January 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia, and together these groups would organize peaceful protests. King predicted that the use of nonviolence would be a way to gain sympathy from the media and public opinion, which was correct. The treatment of Black people at the hands of white officials was televised across the nation, sparking a public outcry.
  • Following the public’s outrage and condemnation, the Civil Rights Act was enacted into law in 1964. Subsequently, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was enacted.
  • In 1963, King and the SCLC worked closely with the NAACP, staging sit-ins in Birmingham, Alabama. It was during these protests that King was arrested and jailed, and it was during this time that he penned his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Ultimately, the protests were a success, ending with the resignation of the police chief and the desegregation of public spaces in the city.
  • In August of 1963, King and the SCLC and NAACP organized the March on Washington, where he delivered his powerful I Have a Dream speech.
  • In 1965, King and other civil rights leaders joined together for the March on Selma to protest for civil and economic rights for Black people. The brutal acts by police against peaceful protestors were, again, televised and sparked more outrage. It was no less than six months later that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act.
  • King would go on to fight against many more injustices up until his unfortunate and untimely demise on the 4th of April 1968, in which he was assassinated in a Memphis hotel.
  • In 1983, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy would be cemented and commemorated on the third Monday of every January. The holiday would be known as “Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.
A black and white of Martin Luther King Jr. It is a profile picture of him dressed in a suit.

Inspirational Books for Children of All Ages

My Dream of Martin Luther King by Faith Ringgold

Martin Luther King Jr.'s profile makes up the foreground. His face is set against a blue background. The title is above his head in red letters against a black background. The author's name is in small, white letters at the bottom on the left side.

This is a story inspired by Faith Ringgold’s dream of Dr. King and follows him through a series of important dates in King’s life and during the Civil Rights Movement. The book brings Ringgold’s imaginative voice and artistic vision to life, which ends with the promise of peace and hope. The book also includes pages of activities for children to explore and learn. Ringgold’s vivid narration and illustrations are bound to inspire your child as they reflect on Martin Luther King’s life and legacy.

This Is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson

A little girl in a burgundy dress is jumping rope. Her ponytails are flying in the wind. She is set against a yellow and brown background. the title is at the top in large, dark blue letters. The author's name is near the bottom on the right side in small, black letters.

A poignantly beautiful narrative in which the narrator tells the story of her family’s move during the Great Migration, in which Black people moved up north for better opportunities. It begins with a little girl who finds a jump rope under a tree. The rope is passed down through three generations and is used not just for jump rope games but also for tying suitcases to the car roof as her family makes the big trek from South Carolina up to New York City. The rope remains the constant in the little girl’s life into her elder years when she’s now a grandmother. An inspiring story sure to leave your little ones feeling like they, too, can do anything!

Holly Celebrates MLK Day by Kimberly Kendall-Drucker

A little girl with a curly afro stands in an orange dress outside on the sidewalk. She looks to be a park. There are trees and grass all around her with grayed cityscape in the background.

As book one of this series, we follow little Holly, who is big on celebrations! All days are Holly-days, so a celebration is in order! Martin Luther King Jr. Day is especially one of Holly’s favorite holidays, as she gets to share all of her knowledge about Dr. King with loved ones. Her favorite part of all is marching in the MLK Day parade and doing her part to honor his legacy. A most inspirational book that will leave your kids excited to learn as they, too, join in and honor Martin Luther King Jr. this holiday.

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford

A colorful scene of children of all backgrounds painting the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. Many colors surround the profile of Martin Luther King. One of the kids is painting his face. One kid is holding a blue ladder, two other kids are painting his neck and suit. And a kid in a wheelchair is holding a painting palette. The title is in large, blue letters at the top. the author's is in blue letters on the left side.

A journey through poetic prose as you travel between dual narratives of historical moments in Dr. King’s life and a modern class learning about his message of love over hate. This is an encouraging story that connects the past with the present, highlighting principles that we can all incorporate into our own lives. Let this book inspire you to be the change you seek in this new generation. While times may change, King’s message and examples throughout history are timeless.

My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Martin Luther King III

A man (Martin Luther King Jr.) with his son (Martin Luther King III) are both dressed in white button-up shirts. They are looking at one another and smiling. They are set against a blue and tan background. The title is in large, white letters above the pair. The author's name is at the bottom in small, blue letters.

In an ode to his father, in his memoir, Martin Luther King III gives an in-depth look at what it was like to grow up with Dr. King as his father and the man who helped lead the Civil Rights Movement. Through this intimate narrative, MLK III takes us through momentous moments with his father as he reminisces on the man behind the movement. A warm story sure to both excite and inspire your little ones as you celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

These books and others are here to help you and your children connect to Dr. King as a leader, an activist, and someone who inspired the idea of change as we look back on the legacy of a man who sought to change minds and hearts.

Looking for more inspiring information on MLK? Click here and here. To read and listen to his I Have a Dream speech in full, click here and here.

Be sure to browse our Diversifying Your TBR: Beautiful Black Voices in Literature and Young Reader’s and Children’s Holiday Recs bookshelves for these and other books on our