For Educators: Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

Activity 2: Debates in Congress: Fifteen-Year Struggle for a National Holiday to Honor Dr. King.


Document Analysis, Group Discussions

Divide the students into small groups. Distribute to each group a copy of one of the Congressional Record text.

•Congressional Record—Senate: Introduction of Resolution in the Senate by Senator Edward Brooke, April 8, 1968
•Congressional Record—House: Remarks by Representative Ryan, January 21, 1970
•Congressional Record—Senate: Remarks by Senator Patrick Moynihan, (D-NY), October 19, 1983

Materials Needed:

•Computer with Internet access
•Easel pad

Explain to the students - what are the Congressional Records? (See definition below).

The Congressional Records are the official journals of the House and Senate daily actions. They have been published by the Government Printing Office since 1873. Each day the Congressional Records are published and submitted to the Library of Congress and are available for Congressional members the following day.  The Congressional Record is a verbatim account of the floor proceedings of the House and Senate. This includes debates, parliamentary actions and roll call votes. It also includes communication from the president and the executive branch, memorials, petitions, information about legislation and committee meetings and schedules.  These records are available to the public through the Library of Congress.

Tell the students to read the highlighted section on the document. Using Worksheet 2: Debates in Congress ask the students to record information from the readings by answering the following questions and share their responses with other students in their group:

Section I: The Debate

•Who is speaking?
•What is the date of the presentation?
•Where is the presentation taking place? In the House? In the Senate?

List three reasons why the Congressional member is seeking support from other Congressional members?

Section II: Personal Opinion

•If you were a member of Congress hearing this debate list three or more reasons why you would consider sponsoring or not sponsoring a bill to support a national holiday for Dr. King.

Following the small group discussions, engage the students in a whole class discussion about the issues raised in the debates. Encourage the students to share with the class their “Personal Opinion.”

You may want to use this sharing of personal opinion to engage students in a debate/discussion among themselves.

Optional Activity 1: Record the students’ responses on a large sheet of easel pad paper to post on the walls for future reference.

Optional Activity 2: Recreate with the students a mock session of Congress where each group presents the major points of their assigned Congressional Record document.

Video: C-Span Oral History Interview: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)

During this oral history interview Rep. Conyers talks about his introduction of the first bill in 1968 for a King Holiday. He speaks about the challenges faced by the Congressional Black Caucus in achieving the goal to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. legacy as a national holiday.

C-Span Oral Histories: Representative John Conyers (D-MI)
(9:23sec. to 14:31sec.)

Tell the students to continue to use the worksheet to record any new information they learn from viewing the video. Following the video, ask the students what they learned and did it affect their earlier opinion from reading the documents?


As a concluding assignment for this activity, have the students write an essay about the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s role in fighting for the civil rights of all Americans and how their lives are impacted by his legacy. Have the students to also include in their essay what they would do to honor Dr. King on his birthday, January 15 and throughout the year (this could be personal acts of kindness or practicing compassion and tolerance towards their classmates, i.e. anti-bullying).

Optional Activity 3

Have your students participate in a school-wide assembly celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday by presenting their essays.

additional information and links.