Drivers honked their horns and passers-by cheered as sixth-grade students from Liberty Memorial Central Middle School marched Friday afternoon along Massachusetts Street carrying signs demanding equal rights for all U.S. citizens.
The march was entirely peaceful, though, and the cheers along the way were clear signs of encouragement — in stark contrast to many civil rights marches a half-century ago when participants sometimes were confronted by angry mobs and fire hoses.
Instead, Friday's march was held to honor those historic events, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who made non-violent civil disobedience the hallmark of the modern civil rights movement.
"We are simulating Martin Luther King's march on Washington with our sixth-grade students to honor him and to teach them about the art of protesting," said Molly Fuller, a social studies teacher at Liberty Memorial Central.
The march was just one of several activities students at the school engaged in this week in advance of the national Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday on Monday. While the sixth-grade students spent their class time preparing to march, seventh-graders painted murals, and eighth-graders wrote essays and speeches.
Principal Jeff Harkin said learning about and observing the King legacy has now become integrated into the mainstream social studies curriculum.
Harkin said this is the first year the school has staged marches as part of the curriculum surrounding King Day celebrations, but he hopes it will become an annual event.
"Good social studies education is citizenship education," Harkin said. "And I don't think there is a better thing to teach about citizenship than the Martin Luther King legacy, free speech and non-violent discourse."