Unit 19       A Freedom Fighter

Lesson 74         MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1)

Martin Luther King, Jr., who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, was an important political leader in the USA. He fought for political rights for black people in the USA. By doing this he set an example to the rest of the world. The message he gave was that black people should not be separated but should be treated as well as other people, and with complete respect.

King was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, in the southeast of the US, the son of a minister in the church. As a boy, he enjoyed basketball, tennis and especially football. He spent a lot of time talking and reading and delivered a paper round to earn some money. He liked making friends and disliked fighting in any form. At the age of 15 he won an entrance prize to a college in one of the northern states. There black people had equal rights and were free to live, study and work as they wished. In 1948 he left college to be a minister in the church. At this time in the southern states, blacks were not treated as equal citizens. Although slavery had been ended in the US in 1865, the southern states had passed their own laws to continue the separation of blacks and whites. Mixed race marriages were forbidden by law. There were separate sections for blacks in shops, restaurants, hospitals, buses and trains. Black children were educated in separate schools. The money spent on educating a black child was just one fourth of that spent on each white child. Black people had no right to vote in the southern states. If they wished to, they had to pass a reading test.

King continued his studies from 1948-1951 in Philadelphia, on the east coast of the USA. All his life he believed that it was right and necessary to demand changes in society if people did not have their civil rights. He believed that they could achieve their goal by peaceful revolution, not by fighting and killing. In his lifetime, he forced the government to liberate the blacks in the USA and give them equal rights.

In 1964 King received the Nobel Prize for Peace. He gave the whole of the $54,600 prize to the freedom movement. In 1964 a new Civil Rights Act

was passed. Any organization that received money from the US government had to treat blacks equally. In 1965 a new Voting Rights Bill became law. From then on, all black people had the right to vote.

King had made many enemies because of his work in the black liberation movement. Once, a bomb exploded and destroyed his house. On April 4th, 1968, he was murdered. However, his struggle had already changed the whole of society in the USA. Within a few years of his death, black people across the country held important jobs in government. Many blacks work as managers, lawyers, teachers, bankers, broadcasters and newspaper editors.

 

Lesson 75       MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (2)

On December 1, 1955, a black woman, Rosa Parks, got on a bus in Alabama and sat down in the "Whites-only" section. She refused to move and was taken away by the police. A group was formed to demand that the bus company should change its unfair practices and King was made president. Four thousand papers were sent round the town, which said, "When you go to work, take a taxi, or share a ride, or walk." For a whole year, black people refused to take the city buses. King called for black people not to give in but to continue the struggle. His own house was destroyed and for some time his life was in danger. In the end government lawyers in the capital said that the bus company did not have the right to separate blacks from whites on its buses.

In 1963 King met President Kennedy and asked for new civil rights laws to give blacks equal rights. King then led a new revolution in Birmingham, Alabama. The housing condition for blacks in Birmingham was bad and there were few jobs for blacks. Only 25 % of them could vote. King was put in prison, saying, "W have waited 340 years for our rights!" The struggle continued and after a week the prisons were full. One day the police even used their sticks during a peaceful march by blacks, and this was seen across the whole country on TV. The blacks' revolution won a nationwide support. In the end public places were opened to blacks and all the black marchers who had been put in prison were set free.

On August 28, 1963 King made a speech to thousands of black people that immediately became world-famous. He spoke without notes and told the crowd of listeners how he saw the future. He used the phrase "I have a dream" many times. He said, "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

 

 

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