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Westerly Sun Column


Learn More About MLK Jr. Day at the Library

Last Wednesday the 15th would have been Martin Luther King Jr’s 91st birthday, and today, the library is closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. I read a bit about him recently and was reminded of what an impressive and accomplished man he was. He graduated from his segregated high school at the age of 15 and college at 19. At 26 years old, he had earned two college degrees, as well as a Ph.D. from Boston University.

From 1957-1968, Dr. King was extremely active in the Civil Rights Movement, traveling over 6 million miles and speaking over 2500 times. In those 11 years, he also wrote five books and numerous articles, met with President Kennedy, was arrested 20 times, and was awarded five honorary degrees. In 1963 he was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.” At 35 years old, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He turned over the prize money of $54,000 to the civil rights movement—that would be almost half a million dollars today. His 1964 acceptance speech in Oslo is still considered by many to be among the most powerful remarks to ever be delivered at the event.

In 1964, at least partially due to the March on Washington, which was the event where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which eliminated legalized racial segregation. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which eliminated barriers to voting for African-Americans. The passage of this legislation was a direct result of the march that Dr. King led from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, titled the March for Voting Rights.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, TN.

At Westerly Library, we have numerous resources on Martin Luther King, Jr. There are many children’s books--some describe what the United States was like during Dr. King’s lifetime, some are picture books, and then we also biographies for older children. For adults, we have a 15 CD audio book from BBC America that includes 24 original recordings of Dr. King, including some of his most famous speeches. I can’t list them all because the Westerly Library alone has over 50 items on Martin Luther King! If you are interested in learning more about this person, who undoubtedly changed the world in significant ways, the library should be your first stop.

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday), we have a special event in honor of Dr. King—the Westerly Area Peace and Justice Group presents the third annual reading of Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., 12 readers will read five minute portions of the letter. This letter was written by Dr. King on the margins of a newspaper (the only paper available to him) while jailed in the Birmingham, AL city jail, and became an important text of the Civil Rights Movement.


By Nina Wright, Reference Librarian