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The modern Black Lives Matter movement continues the legacy of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement. In the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others led Black civil rights activists and their allies to take nonviolent action in the fight for voting rights, an end to segregation, and living wages. They marched, participated in sit-ins and boycotts, and traveled to register Black voters. Despite violent opposition, their efforts led to legislative victories that promoted a more equal society. Twenty-first century police brutality and discontent with systemic racial inequality has fueled new generations to protest civil rights violations and work for change through the Black Lives Matter movement. Though viral videos, online organizational efforts, and non-traditional leadership make today’s civil rights movement different from that of the past, the Black Lives Matter movement’s worldwide visibility and record-breaking protest attendance suggest that its demands for racial equity may be just as revolutionary. This audio story collection features stories about the events, efforts, and people involved in both the historic and contemporary Black civil rights movements.
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was only one of many schools being desegregated in accordance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This public radio story describes the attempt by nine black students to integrate Central High School in 1957. But the protests against its desegregation made Central High the symbolic focus of white resistance to civil rights for black Americans.
Fifty years ago, on June 21, 1964, three young men went missing. They were part of Freedom Summer, an effort to register black residents to vote in segregated Mississippi. They were murdered by the local Ku Klux Klan. When their bodies were found a month later, the outrage led to the passage of civil rights protections. On November 24, 2014 President Obama posthumously awarded these three men the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to honor their sacrifice and work towards equality.
Fifty years ago, a bloody confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama exposed the nation to the racial injustice and brutality of the American South. This event paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forcing all municipalities to allow black residents to register to vote. Listen to learn more about this historic event in the Civil Rights Movement from people who participated in Bloody Sunday.
Was there a single event that launched the modern Civil Rights Movement? Some argue that it was the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy viciously beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s murder gained national attention, in large part because of his mother’s decision to hold an open casket funeral. After years of appeals by the Till family, the Justice Department recently decided to reopen its investigation into the killing. Listen to hear a cousin of Emmett Till describe the impact of the murder on her family and the nation and question how justice can be served in a case more than a half-century old.
Malcolm X was one of the most visible, charismatic, and controversial spokespeople for the struggles of Black Americans. From his birth in Nebraska to his death in New York City, Malcolm X’s life was defined by his evolving views on Black self-reliance, racial integration (or separation), and the intersection of race and class both in the United States and globally. Listen to hear the author of a new book on the life of Malcolm X discuss the civil rights activist’s changing views on issues of race in America.
There are parallels between the race struggles of Martin Luther King half a century ago and the Black Lives Matter movement of today. This story tells of how attention is being brought to the disparities between races in the United States, and how the message has changed from an aspirational tone to a commitment to truth-telling. Protesters in both struggles were working to transform America and focus on respect. Listen to hear more about civil rights activism in this interview recorded on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, the first two NFL players to kneel on the field during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, have reached a settlement with the NFL. Kaepernick and Reid alleged that NFL teams were working together to keep them out of the league and filed grievances with the NFL. Listen to hear from a sports writer about what the players may have won in the settlement and what impact their actions have had.
While giving her valedictorian speech at her graduation, a Texas high school student was cut off before finishing. School administrators had asked the student to remove what they believed were controversial elements in her speech, but she chose not to do that. Listen to hear more about what the student felt was important to include in her speech, despite the school’s objections, and why.
Congress is debating whether and how to compensate the descendants of African-American slaves. Some argue that reparations, which means money paid to those who have been wronged, would fairly compensate African-Americans for the crimes committed against their ancestors. Others believe that the past is past, and that today’s citizens should not be required to pay for actions that did not involve them. Listen to hear a congressional representative explain how the legacy of slavery continues to impact black communities today and how the government might invest in addressing ongoing issues, and then debate: Should Congress consider reparations for slavery?
Protesters angry over the death of black people at the hands of police are demanding sweeping changes to policing systems around the country. Some say police department budgets are too large and want some of the money diverted to community support services. Others argue the only way to bring real change is to dismantle and replace police departments with entirely new systems. Listen to learn how policing rules in Minneapolis have already changed and why one former police officer and professor thinks abolishing the police is risky.
John Lewis, a celebrated civil rights leader and long-time member of Congress, has died. As a young man, Lewis fought courageously for racial justice alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. Among other acts of nonviolent resistance, he led the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in support of voting rights, where he was severely beaten and arrested. Lewis continued to champion issues of justice as a legislator, earning him the nickname, “the conscience of Congress.” Listen to learn more about the life of John Lewis and how his passion and commitment to racial equality has inspired lawmakers and citizens for generations.
Statues of Confederate leaders, long considered offensive by many, have been removed in states around the country. Now, protesters are calling for the dismantling of statues with more complex backgrounds. These statues depict historical figures respected for their significant contributions to the advancement of America’s democratic ideals, but whose personal stories include ownership of enslaved people or other examples of complicity with systemic racism. Listen to a Civil War historian caution against extreme responses to monuments and then debate: Should statues of historic figures with complex legacies be removed?
Systemic racism, also called structural racism, refers to the way institutions in our society are set up to disadvantage black Americans. Often the racist systems are rooted in the past, such as the “redlining” system banks used in the early 20th century to refuse housing loans to people of color, but they created racial inequities still felt today. George Floyd’s death prompted protesters and others to call attention to systemic racism in policing, education, criminal justice, medicine, and other key societal institutions. Listen to a writer explain how systemic racism works to keep minorities from advancing, and what she believes could lead to meaningful change.
On the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington demanding voting rights and an end to segregation, protesters marched again in Washington, DC for racial justice and an end to police violence. In this audio story, participants in the 1963 March on Washington recall details from the day, which featured Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech, and reflect on a struggle that spans generations. Listen to hear sounds and voices from the 1963 and 2020 marches, and learn why one man believes the fight for equality will continue beyond his lifetime.
Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced nonviolent protest and advocated for racial harmony. The racism and violence he experienced throughout his life, however, sometimes filled him with rage. King believed anger could be a useful, positive force if it was channeled productively. Listen to hear more about MLK, Jr.’s views on the strong emotion of anger and how he used it to help him accomplish his goals.
Former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder for the May 2020 death of George Floyd. During Floyd’s arrest in Minneapolis on the suspicion that he was using a fake $20 bill, Chauvin held a knee to Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes while he lay face down and handcuffed. Floyd’s painful death, captured in a video recording taken by a bystander and recounted in the televised trial, drew attention to the problems of systemic racism and police brutality, and triggered protests around the world. Listen to hear how the crowd outside the courthouse reacted to the verdict and what it may signal for the future.
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