Episode 50: Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 50: Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of America’s greatest leaders. He was an African-American, born in Atlanta, GA, in 1929. He was smart and well educated, entering college at age 15 and earning a doctorate from Boston University. He was also a pastor at a church in Alabama. I mentioned him in podcast Episode 2: Black History Month.

When King was born, racism, segregation and discrimination were legal. This means that black people and other minorities could not enjoy the same quality of life as whites. Things like hotels, hospitals, restaurants and schools were segregated, or separate, and the places for blacks were usually in very bad condition. Blacks could not buy houses in certain areas, they were often prevented from voting, and they could not get good jobs. King himself attended segregated schools.

In the 1950s and 60s Dr. King and others led a non-violent movement against segregation and legal discrimination. It was called the Civil Rights Movement. There were many protests and demonstrations, especially in the South.

Dr. King was part of or led many important civil rights protests and demonstrations.

  • During the Montgomery, AL, bus boycott of 1955-56, Dr. King’s house was bombed, and he and 89 others were arrested.

  • In 1957 he helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), whose goal was to achieve full equality for African-Americans through non-violent protests.

  • About 250,000 blacks and other civil rights workers gathered in Washington, DC, in 1963. They held a protest against discrimination and segregation called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. In it, he called for an end to racism using emotional and poetic language. Repeating the phrase “I have a dream”, he stated his hope for equality and peace.

  • In 1963, he was arrested during a protest in Birmingham, AL. There, he wrote his civil rights manifesto, “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”. The letter tells exactly why he and his group were doing what they were doing.

  • In 1965 during the first of three marches from Selma, AL, to Montgomery, King helped lead a group of about 600 civil rights protesters. Police attacked the marchers and beat and hurt many of them badly. The protesters had to go to court to win the right to march again, which they did a short time later.

The Civil Rights Movement was successful in some important ways. Because of the courage of the people in it, laws were passed that made discrimination and segregation illegal. Much of the success is due to Dr. King’s leadership.

In 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, TN. He was only 39 years old. However, King’s legacy of working for equal rights for everyone continues today, and he is recognized as a world leader. Now, there is an official federal holiday on the third Monday of January honoring him and his contributions to Americans.

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