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#214: The Civil Rights Movement

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

Today, we tell about the movement for civil rights for black Americans.

(SOUND)

The day is August twenty-eighth, nineteen sixty-three. More than two hundred fifty thousand people are gathered in Washington. Black and white, young and old, they demand equal treatment for black Americans. The nation's most famous civil rights leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior, is speaking.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: "I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of our nation."

(MUSIC)

Early in its history, black Africans were brought to America as slaves. They were bought and sold, like animals. By the time of America's Civil War in the eighteen sixties, many had been freed by their owners. Many, however, still worked as slaves on the plantations, or large farms, of the South. By the end of the war, slavery had been declared unconstitutional. But that was only the first step in the struggle for equality.

Most people of color could not get good jobs. They could not get good housing. They had far less chance of a good education than white Americans. For about one hundred years, blacks made slow gains. Widespread activism for civil rights did not really begin until after World War Two. During the war, black Americans earned respect as members of the armed forces. When they came home, many demanded that their civil rights be respected, too. An organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, led the way.

In nineteen fifty-one, the organization sent its lawyers to help a man in the city of Topeka, Kansas. The man, Oliver Brown, and twelve others had brought legal action against the city. They wanted to end racial separation in their children's schools. That policy was known as segregation.

At that time, two of every five public schools in America had all white students or all black students. The law said all public schools must be equal, but they were not. Schools for white children were almost always better than schools for black children. The situation was worst in Southern states.

The case against the city of Topeka -- Brown versus the Board of Education -- was finally settled by the nation's highest court. In nineteen fifty-four, the Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black children were not equal to schools for white children. The next year, it said public schools must accept children of all races as quickly as possible.

(MUSIC)

Student Elizabeth Eckford and the angry crowd that followed her on September fourth, 1957
Student Elizabeth Eckford and the angry crowd that followed her on September fourth, 1957

In September nineteen fifty-seven, a black girl attempted to enter an all-white school in the city of Little Rock, Arkansas.

(SOUND)

An angry crowd shouted at her. State guards blocked her way. The guards had been sent by the state governor, Orville Faubus. After three weeks, a federal court ordered Governor Faubus to remove the guards. The girl, Elizabeth Eckford, and other black students were able to enter the school. After one day, however, riots forced the black students to leave.

President Dwight Eisenhower ordered federal troops to Little Rock. They helped black students get into the white school safely. However, angry white citizens closed all the city's public schools. The schools stayed closed for two years.

(MUSIC)

In nineteen sixty-two, a black student named James Meredith sought to attend the University of Mississippi. School officials refused. John Kennedy, the president at that time, sent federal law officers to help him.

James Meredith became the first black person to graduate from the University of Mississippi.

In addition to fighting for equal treatment in education, black Americans fought for equal treatment in housing and transportation.

(SOUND)

In many cities of the South, blacks were forced to sit in the back of buses. In nineteen fifty-five, a black woman named Rosa Parks got on a bus in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. She sat in the back. The bus became crowded. There were no more seats for white people. So, the bus driver ordered Missus Parks to stand and give her seat to a white person.

Rosa Parks is fingerprinted at a police station in Montgomery, Alabama, in nineteen fifty-five, after her arrest for refusing to give her bus seat to a white person
Rosa Parks is fingerprinted at a police station in Montgomery, Alabama, in nineteen fifty-five, after her arrest for refusing to give her bus seat to a white person

She refused. Her feet were tired after a long day at work. Rosa Parks was arrested.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: "For a number of years, Negro passengers on the city bus lines of Montgomery have been humiliated, intimidated, and faced threats on this bus line."

The Reverend Martin Luther King organized the black citizens of Montgomery. They were the major users of the bus system. They decided to stop using the buses.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: "At present, we are in the midst of a protest, the black citizens of Montgomery, representing some 44 percent of the population. Ninety percent, at least, of the regular Negro bus passengers are staying off the buses, and we plan to continue until something is done."

(MUSIC)

The boycott lasted a little more than a year. It seriously affected the earnings of the bus company. In the end, racial separation on the buses in Montgomery was declared illegal. Rosa Parks' tired feet had helped win black Americans another victory in their struggle for equal rights. And, the victory had been won without violence.

The Reverend King was following the teachings of former Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi urged his followers to reach their political goals without violence. One of the major tools of non-violence in the civil rights struggle in America was the "sit-in". In a sit-in, protesters entered a store or public eating place. They quietly asked to be served. Sometimes, they were arrested. Sometimes, they remained until the business closed. But they were not served. Some went hours without food or water.

(MUSIC: "Buses Are A-Coming")

Another kind of protest was the "freedom ride." This involved buses that traveled through states from the North to the South. On freedom rides, blacks and whites sat together to make it difficult for officials to enforce racial separation laws on the buses.

This Freedom Riders bus went up in flames when a fire bomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Alabama in 1961
This Freedom Riders bus went up in flames when a fire bomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Alabama in 1961

Many freedom rides -- and much violence -- took place in the summer of nineteen sixty-four. Sometimes, the freedom riders were arrested. Sometimes, angry crowds of whites beat the freedom riders.

(MUSIC)

Perhaps the most dangerous part of the civil rights movement was the campaign to win voting rights for black Americans. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution said a citizen could not be denied the right to vote because of race or color. Several Southern states, however, passed laws to try to deny voting rights to blacks for other reasons.

Martin Luther King and his supporters demanded new legislation to guarantee the right to vote. They held protests in the state of Alabama. In the city of Birmingham, the chief law officer ordered his men to fight the protesters with high-pressure water hoses and fierce dogs.

People throughout the country watched the demonstration on television. The sight of children being beaten by policemen and bitten by dogs awakened many citizens to the civil rights struggle. Federal negotiators reached a compromise. The compromise was, in fact, a victory for the protesters. They promised to stop their demonstrations. In exchange, they would be permitted to vote.

(MUSIC: "The Freedom Train Is Coming")

President Lyndon Johnson signed a major civil rights bill in nineteen sixty-four. Yet violence continued in some places. Three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi. One was murdered in Alabama.

Martin Luther King kept working toward the goal of equal rights. On April fourth nineteen sixty-eight, he died working toward that goal.

King was shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee. He had gone there to support a strike by waste collection workers.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Doctor King was standing on the balcony of his second floor hotel room tonight when, according to a companion, a shot was fired from across the street. In the friend's words, the bullet exploded in his face."

CBS newsman Walter Cronkite.

WALTER CRONKITE: "The police, who have been keeping a close watch over the Nobel Peace Prize winner because of Memphis' turbulent racial situation, were on the scene almost immediately. They rushed the thirty-nine year old Negro leader to a hospital, where he died of a bullet wound in the neck."

A white man, James Earl Ray, was tried and found guilty of the crime.

(MUSIC)

A wave of unrest followed the murder of Martin Luther King. Blacks in more than one hundred cities in America rioted. In some cities, areas affected by the riots were not rebuilt for many years. The movement for civil rights for black Americans continued. But it became increasingly violent. The struggle produced angry, bitter memories. Yet it also produced some of the greatest words spoken in American history.

This August 28, 1963, file photo shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. waving to the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington
This August 28, 1963, file photo shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. waving to the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington

MARTIN LUTHER KING: "When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children -- black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!'"

(MUSIC)

Nest week, we continue the story of the United States in the nineteen sixties.

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

----------

This was program #214.

1963年8月28日,超过25万美国人在首都华盛顿举行集会。白人、黑人、年轻的、年长的,他们聚集在一起,为非洲裔美国人争取平等权益。美国最著名的民权运动领导人马丁.路德.金发表讲话说:"我很高兴今天能够加入你们的行列,这将成为我们历史上最伟大的争取自由的示威。"

最初,非洲人作为奴隶被卖到美国。他们像动物一样被任意买卖。到1860年代美国内战时,很多奴隶主已经将自由还给了他们。但是在美国南部,很多黑人仍然在大农场上像奴隶一样工作。内战结束时,林肯宣布奴隶制违宪。然而,这只是争取平等的第一步。

有色人种很难得到好工作,不能租到好房子,与白种人相比,他们很难接受良好的教育。在之后的100年里,黑人在争取权益方面没有取得什么进步。大规模民权运动直到二战后才逐渐展开。二战期间,黑人作为军人赢得了社会的尊重。退伍回家后,他们希望自己的民权也能得到尊重。一个叫做全国有色人种协进会的组织领导了美国的民权运动。

1951年,全国有色人种协进会派律师协助美国堪萨斯州托皮卡的一名男子。这名名叫奥利佛.布朗的男子连同其他12人一起,对托皮卡市提出起诉。他们希望结束学校里的"种族隔离制度"。

那时,美国五分之二的公立学校都是全白人学校或者全黑人学校。法律上明文规定,公立学校必须平等对待所有学生,但实际情况并非如此。白人学校普遍比黑人学校要好,尤其是在美国南部。

布朗诉托皮卡市教育委员会这一案件最终被送往美国联邦最高法院审理。1954年,美国最高法院裁决,黑人儿童就读的隔离学校与白人儿童就读的学校确实存在着不平等待遇。 第二年,法院要求公立学校必须尽快落实招收所有种族的儿童入学。

1957年9月,一名黑人小女孩想进入美国阿肯色州小岩城的一所白人学校就读。结果一群白人愤怒地对她吼叫。阿肯色州警卫也堵着路不让她进入。这些警卫是阿肯色州州长奥瓦尔.福布斯派去的。三周过后,一个联邦法庭下令福布斯撤回警卫。这个叫伊丽莎白.埃克福德的小女孩和其他几名黑人小孩这才进入了这所学校。

然而,仅仅一天过后,暴力冲突就让这些黑人孩子不得不离开了学校。艾森豪威尔总统派联邦军队到小岩城维持秩序。军队帮助黑人孩子安全地回到这所白人学校。但是,恼怒的白人市民一气之下关闭了这个城市所有的公立学校,一关就是两年。

1962年,一个名叫詹姆斯.梅雷迪斯的黑人学生想就读密西西比大学,遭到学校官员的拒绝。当时的总统约翰.肯尼迪派联邦执法官员帮助他顺利入学,使他成为第一位毕业于密西西比大学的黑人学生。

除了教育领域外,美国黑人也力求在住房和交通上获得平等对待。当时在美国南部许多城市,黑人只能坐在公交车车厢的最后面。1955年,一位名叫罗莎.帕克斯的黑人妇女在阿拉巴马州蒙哥马利市坐公交车。当时她坐在最后一排。 然而,公交车上的人越来越多,最后有些白人没地方坐了。于是,公交车司机让帕克斯站起来,把座位让给白人。帕克斯不同意。一整天的辛苦工作之后,她的脚很疼。罗莎.帕克斯因此被警察逮捕了。

马丁.路德.金号召蒙哥马利市的黑人公民团结起来,他们决定拒乘公交车,而这些黑人公民是这个城市公交系统的主要乘客。马丁.路德.金说:"多年来,黑人乘客在蒙哥马利市的公交车上受尽了屈辱和恐吓,面临诸多威胁。眼下,我们正在抗议,蒙哥马利市黑人公民占整个城市人口的44%,90%使用公交系统的黑人市民目前都拒乘公交车。 我们将坚持抵制公交车,直到得到一个合理的交代。

抵制公交系统的活动持续了一年多,让公交车公司的收入锐减。 最后,蒙哥马利市宣布公交车上的种族隔离是违法的。罗莎.帕克斯疲倦的双脚帮助美国黑人在争取平等权利的事业中再下一城。更重要的是,这次胜利完全没有发生暴力行动。

马丁.路德.金是在学习印度前领导人甘地的方法。甘地劝说他的追随者们采取非暴力不合作方式来达成政治目标。美国民权运动使用的一个最主要的非暴力途径是静坐抗议。静坐抗议时,抗议者进入一个商店或公共餐饮场所,安静地坐在里面,要求得到服务。有时候他们会被警方抓捕;有时候,他们会一直静静地待到打烊。但是他们根本不会得到任何服务。有些人在里面静坐好几个小时不吃不喝。

另外一种抗议形式叫做自由行。这种抗议活动涉及到自北向南穿过各州的公交车。在这些公车上黑人和白人坐在一起,让政府官员无法执行种族隔离政策。1964年夏天,美国出现了很多自由行活动,这些活动比起静坐来暴力得多。有时,参加自由行的游行者会被警方逮捕。有时,一些愤怒的白人还会成群结队地攻击这些游行者。

为黑人争取选举权应当是民权运动最危险的一个环节了。宪法修正案第十五条规定,不能因为公民的种族或肤色而剥夺他们的选举权。然而,南部的几个州又颁布了另外一些法案,试图凭借其他一些理由来剥夺黑人的选举权。

马丁.路德.金和他的支持者们要求美国政府颁布新的立法,确保黑人的选举权。 他们在阿拉巴马州举行抗议活动。伯明翰市警长下令使用高压水枪和凶猛的警犬来镇压当地的抗议者。

全美国的人都在电视上关注这次示威游行。 儿童被警察殴打,被警犬撕咬的一些面画让很多美国公民都从中觉醒,并加入到民权运动的队伍中。联邦政府的谈判代表做出了妥协。这个妥协实际上就是抗议者的胜利。根据妥协方案,抗议者们答应停止游行, 但交换条件是给予他们选举权。

1964年,林登.约翰逊总统签署了一项重要的民权法案。但是在某些地区,暴力事件还在不断上演。三名民权工作者在密西西比遭到谋杀。另外一人在阿拉巴马州被谋杀。民权领袖马丁.路德.金一直为了公民的平等权利不懈努力。1968年4月4号,他为民权运动献出了自己的生命。

马丁.路德.金在田纳西州的孟斐斯市被人枪杀。他去那里是为了声援当地废品收集工人的罢工。哥伦比亚广播公司新闻主播沃尔特.克朗凯特报道说:"当时马丁.路德.金博士正站在他下榻的饭店二楼的阳台上,这时街对面有人向他开枪。据当时他身边的友人透露,子弹打在了他的脸上。由于孟菲斯混乱的种族局势,当局派警察对这位诺贝尔和平奖得主进行严密保护。枪击事件发生后,警察立刻出现在现场。他们火速将这位39岁的黑人领袖送往医院,而马丁.路德.金最终因为脖子中弹而离开了人世。"

马丁.路德.金的死引起大规模的社会动荡,黑人暴动遍及一百多个城市,有些城市遭到的破坏很多年都没有得以重建。为黑人争取平等权益的民权运动没有停止,而且暴力程度日益升级。这一运动给人们留下了愤怒和痛苦的记忆,但是同时,它也在美国历史上留下了很多伟大的演讲词。

马丁.路德.金说:"当我们让自由之声响起,让自由之声在每一个大大小小的村庄、每一个州、每一个市都响起来的时候, 我们就能加速那一天的到来─所有的上帝之子,无论黑人还是白人,无论犹太人还是异教徒,无论新教徒还是天主教徒, 都能手拉手一起歌唱着古老的黑人灵歌:我们自由啦!我们自由啦!感谢万能的上帝,我们终于自由啦!"

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