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Students at Vick Elementary School and other Wilson County public schools are learning about Martin Luther King Jr.
The iconic civil rights leader is honored with a federal holiday Monday for his efforts to bring equal rights to the people of this country and the world.
The holiday was approved in 1983, some 15 years after he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, and nearly five years after he delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
“Martin Luther King thought everyone should be equal,” wrote Lavender Miller, a student in Helen Williams’ first grade class.
On Friday, Lavender and other first graders were polishing second drafts of papers they wrote about King’s life.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was born on Jan. 15, 1929. He had a brother and a sister,” wrote first grader Mateo Bacas. “Martin Luther King Jr. cannot go to the movie because it said white only.”
In Mateo’s first iteration, King stood in front of a lectern with a microphone delivering his speech. In the second, more colorful version, Mateo drew King larger and with a crown on his head.
“Martin Luther King grew up to be a minister,” wrote first grader Zymir McArthur. “Some people didn’t like him. He fought against racism. He gave a speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ in D.C. He wanted his children to be able to hold hands with white children.”
Pam Walthal, principal at Vick Elementary School, said Martin Luther King Jr. Day is meant to recognize a leader who believed that rights are for everyone no matter their cultural differences.
“Rights are for all citizens,” Walthal said. “That’s what makes us citizens. That’s what makes us thrive. It makes us stronger.”
Even though the federal holiday is the first for an African American, it is a holiday for everyone, Walthal said.
“It’s not just for blacks. It’s not just for Hispanics. It’s for everybody,” Walthal said. “That’s what it’s about. We move forward with more power, energy and force by working together rather than individually.”
Walthal said it’s important to retell the story of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement year after year for every new generation.
“It is important to know the history so we won’t repeat divisiveness. That’s the importance of knowing the history,” Walthal said. “If we don’t know from where we have come, and the struggles and the challenges and the efforts people have made in communities that really want to build communities, we will likely repeat the same things that are detrimental to communities. That’s why the history is important. It’s a choice we have. We can either move forwards or we can move backwards, and knowing the history gives you that choice. We may repeat some of the same things that we have had to challenge in the past and we don’t want to do that.”
As students study King’s birthday and the civil rights era, Walthal said, “The important thing is to learn with a purpose.”
“It’s not just to know the history. It’s what we do with the history that’s the key,” Walthal said. “Knowing is one thing, but we have to take action now that we know.”