The third Monday in January is marked as a federal holiday in the United States, in memory and recognition of the Civil Rights activist and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia on 15 January 1929 and died in hospital on 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, from an assassin’s bullet which struck him as he walked outside his hotel room. He married Coretta Scott King in 1953 and they had four children, one of whom, Dexter Scott King, manages the King Center in Atlanta. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with Dr King when he died, twice stood for election as President. Later he worked for President Clinton, who in 1998 gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rosa Parks, who had sparked the Civil Rights Movement into action by her simple act in 1955, of refusing to give up her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, . Her arrest and subsequent imprisonment led to a mass boycott of the public buses in the city coordinated by the NAACP, the black civil rights group, with King, then a local Baptist minister in the city. When she met Nelson Mandela in 1990, he told her of how her brave action often inspired him during his long imprisonment. However, Dr King’s dream has not yet come true. Blacks and whites are not yet equal, except in law, and large numbers of young black Americans have grown up without jobs, since the 1980′s, in cities like Chicago, where President Obama worked in social programs at that time. Many went to prison, or died in street violence from shootings and stabbings which are part of the gang warfare of the cities. Five times as many blacks are victims of this violence than are whites, and the proportions of black prisoners to whites is roughly similar.
The advent of a ‘colored’ man to the White House does not, yet, seem to have had much effect. Perhaps President Obama’s new-found determination to tackle the problem of gun ownership will have an impact on these figures. However, there are still less than 60% of blacks registered to vote.
For thirteen years, Martin Luther King was the leader of a people on a long road to freedom. He was a great speaker, preacher and writer, and his philosophy and strategy of non-violent direct action, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, has, in turn inspired many civil rights movements and campaigns throughout the world. In 2005 Condoleezza Rice succeeded Colin Powell as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the first two African-Americans to hold senior office in the Federal government. At a meeting in Black History Month, she talked about what Dr King’s ideas meant to her:
Black Americans, African-Americans, have always believed in America, even in the darkest times. They believed in America when America didn’t believe in them. Martin Luther King told America that it should be true to itself. And finally America did the right thing by African-Americans.
I have put together a PPP here, which can be accessed via the link below. It can be used by students working in English, at intermediate level (with about a thousand words) and above.
Alan C McLean, Martin Luther King: Oxford Bookworms Factfiles. OUP: 2008
Malkoc, Smolinski & Kral (eds.), Celebrate! Holidays in the USA. Office of English Language Programs (englishprograms.state.gov), Washington DC: 2007 (second edn.)
Martin Luther King, Strength to Love. London (Hodder & Stoughton): 1964
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