January 16: Martin Luther King Day This year sees the 20th celebration of this modern American holiday, observed on the third Monday in January
One December day, 50 years ago, a black American woman called Rosa Parks (pictured receiving the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 1999) was returning home from work by bus. She was tired and found a seat in the back of the bus, the part where black people had to sit. But the bus became crowded with white people. The law said in those days that black people had to give up their seats (even in the back of the bus) if there were white people standing. When the driver ordered Rosa to stand, she refused.
She was arrested. Her action led to all the black people of the town (Montgomery, Alabama) boycotting the buses for more than a year. Then the law was changed. That boycott of the buses was organised by the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior. A black clergyman who believed in non-violence, he became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the US.
Seven years later, in 1963, black people in America still did not have equal civil rights. There had been many protests and meetings about this.
Then, one day in August that year, more than 200,000 people gathered for a rally in Washington. The main speaker was Martin Luther King and he spoke of how he had a dream that one day America would live out the true meaning of the belief "that all men are created equal".
For the next four years he worked and spoke in order to encourage all Americans to come together to fight poverty and respect all human beings equally. He did much to bring about black rights until, in 1968, he was murdered by a sniper in Memphis, Tennessee. The night before he was shot, he had said: "I may not get to the promised land with you, but we as a people will."
Discussions might explore the possible prevalence and effects of discrimination or bullying of those who are different in non-racial ways: left-handed people, red-heads, those who are overweight, gay, etc.
The song "When I needed a neighbour, were you there" may be appropriate in some assemblies.
Links to a biography of Martin Luther King, quotes from his speeches, and to a timeline can be found at www.infoplease.comspotmlkjrday1.html