Many of the parents of children who are now in middle school had not been born in 1968, the year that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. So what is this second generation learning about the great civil rights hero whose birthday is honored on Monday? MARY REESE BOYKIN talked with middle-school students in the Los Angeles area.
Sixth grade, Orville Wright Middle School, Los Angeles
I have learned that Dr. King went to college when he was 15 and that he was one of the black men who started the civil rights movement in Montgomery [Ala.]. We should know about Dr. King because he helped us to be free from racism. Even though there still is racism, we can use the same bathrooms and water fountains that whites use.
More black students should be interested in Dr. King than there are. Many take it for granted that the things he fought for are over because they happened a long time ago. But that's not true.
I think that instead of just having Black History Month, we should have two-semester courses in black history. There are more white teachers than any other race, but we still should be taught black history.
Seventh grade, Hawthorne Intermediate School
Dr. King was a brave man and every time he had something to say or do, he would follow his beliefs.
We have talked about him in school, but not a lot. There are only a few blacks in our history book.
One day, our teacher asked us whether we remembered the scene in the movie "Forest Gump" where the University of Alabama was desegregated. That led to a discussion on civil rights and segregation. Dr. King's name came up.
But I think that Dr. King is kind of like a father. He still sets examples for young people--for us to do our best in school and not to gangbang or have race riots. He went to jail so that we could have a better life.
Seventh grade, Marlborough School, Hancock Park
Dr. King changed history. Now everyone has equal rights. He made a famous "I Have a Dream" speech. I feel that because of him, many successful African Americans are receiving recognition that they deserve but wouldn't have gotten. For example, students were taught for years that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Now we are taught of the contributions of an African American [Lewis H. Latimer] to the invention of the light bulb instead of a white person taking all the credit.
Seventh grade, Immaculate Heart Middle School, Los Angeles
I learned about Dr. King in sixth grade. My teacher was an African American. By reading books and seeing movies, I learned that he was a great speaker.
Dr. King still affects our lives today because he brought the African Americans and whites together in peace. If it wasn't for what he did to unite the races, I would not have my two best friends, Lyssa and Nicole, who are white.
Eighth grade, Emerson Middle School, Los Angeles
I learned that Dr. King was a great leader, not a follower. He didn't believe in violence; he believed in peace. He wanted all of us to unite and have freedom.
Because of him, we have the freedom to be served in restaurants, to sit anywhere on buses, even to attend some of the schools we attend. But schools don't do a good job in telling us about blacks. I don't think they want us to know about blacks who are successful. We are taught about successful whites. Dr. King's name is mentioned in February [during Black History Month] and that's it.
Dr. King and Malcolm X are my favorite heroes. I look up to them, even though they are dead.
Eighth grade, Horace Mann School, Beverly Hills
When I was in elementary school, in February we would do tons and tons of reports on the contributions of Dr. King and other African Americans. They are not teaching much [about Dr. King] in middle school. They don't care about it any more, like a nothing holiday.
Sixth grade, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies
When I hear Dr. King's name, one thing that comes to my mind is his "I Have A Dream" speech. He thought that everyone should be treated equally. I haven't talked about him in school since fifth grade. I remember that one of my projects was to draw a picture of him.
Seventh grade, Lincoln Middle School, Santa Monica
When I was in the second grade, I read a small book about Dr. King's going to jail, the civil rights marches, his assassination. Basically, classes focus on the "I Have A Dream" speech.
Our generation can look at Dr. King's example as a role model. A lot of kids my age try to take the wrong path. If they think about the things Dr. King spoke about, maybe they can go on the right path.
Supposedly racism has gotten much worse today. But racial relationships with us young people have evened out. There is a little friction sometimes, but it is usually not about race.