Honoring Our History through Artwork: Martin Luther King, Jr. in Library of Congress Primary Sources

Mural at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, District of Columbia Public Library

January and February have a number of memorial holidays, but special days aren’t the only way communities celebrate their heroes.

Are there statues in your community created to honor those who have made a difference? Have buildings in your town been named or renamed for important people in history? Do you know of streets named for notable people? What can a memorial–a place, a building, a work of art–tell us about the individual, the community, and the memorial’s creators?

In many cities in the United States you will find a street named for Martin Luther King. Many places have schools or other buildings named for King. Washington, D.C., is no exception. The nation’s capital is home to the national King Memorial and we have a major street named for Martin Luther King Jr.  The District of Columbia central library building is also named for Martin Luther King. Walk inside and you can see a unique tribute to the civil rights leader. Noted artist Don Miller created a mural documenting the life of Dr. King, as seen here in a photograph from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at the Library of Congress.

Details from the King mural, District of Columbia Public Library

Your students may:

  • Study the mural and record observations, reflections and questions on the primary source analysis tool. Ask them to identify any other people that they recognize. What other kinds of images did Miller include in the mural? Why do they think the artist used these particular images? What specific theme or story is presented by the mural? What images would they want to add or take away and why? For additional questions to focus and deepen their thinking, see the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints.
  • Create their own murals about someone in history. What images would they use and why?
  • Think of other ways that we honor important figures in history. What other suggestions do they have of ways to honor important people in history?

Leave a comment telling us about the creative ideas your students had about memorials past, present, and future.

It’s Snowing: Plowing Ahead with Primary Sources from the Library of Congress

Recently a Summer Institute teacher shared a science lesson she implemented using primary sources from the Library of Congress.  She described how students eagerly explored early photos of rug cleaning – a boy beating a rug with a whisk and a giant gas-powered machine – then successfully made connections to their own lives today, gaining …

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Introducing Primary Source Analysis to Students: Lessons from the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute

This guest post was excerpted from e-mail correspondence from Eden Kuhlenschmidt, who works as a school librarian. Eden participated in a 2012 Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institute. She wrote to us about her experience taking what she learned back to the teachers and students in her school. Watch this blog for the 2013 Summer Teacher Institute application — coming next month.

The Civil War in Songs and Song Sheets

As part of the continuing commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, the Library of Congress just opened an exhibition The Civil War in America, displaying more than 200 items from the Library’s unmatched collections. Students may look at maps, letters, diaries, or photographs to learn about the experiences of those who fought in the war and those who were left behind to tend the homestead. While these sources are excellent, make sure to include music as a way to help students learn about life during the Civil War.

Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian

Photographs offer a snapshot of a particular time and place, telling a careful viewer as much about the photographer as about the subjects of the pictures. That’s often particularly true when the photographer isn’t a member of the group being photographed. One example from the Library of Congress’s collections is Edward S. Curtis, who dedicated most of his career to photographing Native American cultures and traditions to publish in a multi-volume book titled The North American Indian.