Skip to Content

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King


NEA honors the contributions of Dr. King and its own role in the Civil Rights Movement


By Amy Buffenbarger

As people across the country celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the National Education Association will celebrate its own connection to the great civil rights leader.

The NEA has always played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, NEA supported the newly created free schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia where the public schools had been closed for four years rather than comply with the Brown v. Board of Education decision. NEA staff raised $75,000 (roughly $500,000 today) and recruited teachers for the schools.

In 1965, NEA provided support for the black teachers of Selma, Alabama who were fighting for the right to vote. The “fit to teach, fit to vote” campaign proved to be a model often used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in other voter registration drives.

In 1967 and 1968 respectively, NEA elected Braulio Alonso and Libby Koontz to the office of NEA President. They were the first ethnic minorities to ever head a major national organization.

Throughout the 1960’s, NEA supported the court cases of unfairly fired and dismissed black teachers. In the case of Wila Johnson in North Carolina, NEA won reinstatement for Johnson who had been dismissed for advocating for voting rights. The case set the precedent for first amendment rights as a viable defense in discrimination cases.

Today, the NEA continues fighting for equality and social justice through partnerships with organizations such as The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. In August 2009, during a ceremony marking the 46th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Kings famous “I Have a Dream Speech”, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel stood with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, along with representatives from the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA ) and  others to announce the launch of the “Kids for King Education Initiative.”

The initiative hopes to inspires youth from grades 3 – 12 to write an essay, create a piece of art or produce a short video about the lasting legacy Dr. King and his ideals of democracy, justice, hope and love. The program also includes lesson plans for parents and teachers to assist them in educating our young people about the legacy of Dr. King.

Also part of the national celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the 2010 King Day of Service. Volunteers of all ages will work on projects in their communities on Monday to honor Dr. King’s dedication to community service. For more information, visit

Click here for lesson plans and resources around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.