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A Memorial Fit for a King Opens in Washington


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English. I’m Doug Johnson. Today on our show, we play new music from Jay-Z and Kanye West. We also answer a question about Martin Luther King, Jr. And we tell about a memorial honoring the civil rights leader.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

A memorial to honor Martin Luther King opened to the public this week in Washington. An official dedication ceremony with President Obama was set for this Sunday. But the event has been postponed because of the threat to the East Coast from Hurricane Irene.

Sunday marks the forty-eighth anniversary of an historic protest in Washington. On that day, Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ 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.”

Katherine Cole tells us about the memorial.

The new monument sits on one point six hectares of land on Washington’s National Mall. It is a short walk from memorials to two presidents: Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.

Two large stones stand on each side of the entrance to the Martin Luther King memorial. Together they make up what is called the “Mountain of Despair.” The name was taken from Dr. King’s most famous speech.

The centerpiece of the memorial is a nine meter tall statue called the “Stone of Hope.” The stone image shows the likeness of the man considered one of the most influential civil rights leaders of the twentieth century.

Words from Dr King’s “I Have a Dream” speech also appear on one side of the statue. They read: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The other side of the statue recognizes his efforts. It reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” Other famous words from his speeches appear on a granite wall that circles the memorial.

It has taken more than twenty-five years to plan for and build the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. During that time, the project has faced its own “mountains of despair.” These include delays because of money problems, disagreements about the design and questions over the choice of a Chinese artist to make the statue. Lei Yixin was the lead sculptor for the memorial.

Harry Johnson heads the foundation that was responsible for raising the one hundred twenty million dollars needed to complete the project. He explains why his group chose Lei Yixin to do the work.

HARRY JOHNSON: "We chose him because we really believe that Dr. King’s message is true, that you should not judge a person by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. In these terms, we are thinking artistic character.”

The new monument is the first on the National Mall to honor a man of peace, and a person of color. Mr. Johnson says the memorial will make a powerful statement about the progress the country has made on civil rights.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: "I just want to do God’s Will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

Our question this week is also about Dr. King. Van Nguyen of Vietnam and Sobhei Jemma Belal of Sudan want to know about the life of the civil rights activist.

Martin Luther King, Junior was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January fifteenth, nineteen twenty-nine. He attended Morehouse College. At the time, Morehouse was one of the few southern colleges that accepted blacks. He studied Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and the American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. He thought their ideas about nonviolence and disobedience could be used to win equal rights for black Americans. Gandhi believed in peacefully refusing to obey unjust laws. Thoreau had written that people should to be prepared to go to prison for their beliefs.

Martin Luther King’s life as a civil rights leader began with the famous protest by Rosa Parks in nineteen fifty-nine. At that time, black people in Montgomery, Alabama had to sit in the back of public buses. Rosa Parks took a seat near the front and refused to move. She was arrested.

Martin Luther King organized a protest to support Rosa Parks. He urged black people to boycott the buses in Montgomery. That boycott lasted three hundred eighty-two days.

Finally, the United States Supreme Court ruled that racial separation in the Montgomery bus system was unconstitutional. The ruling gave black Americans a new feeling of satisfaction and unity. They saw that peaceful protest could be used as a tool to win their legal rights.

The civil rights movement spread fast. A group of black clergymen formed an organization to guide it. Dr. King became president of this organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the years that followed, he helped organize many protests in the South.

A nineteen sixty-three protest in Birmingham, Alabama brought unwanted attention to the city. Many protesters were beaten and arrested. Soon, white politicians saw that it was easier to meet the demands of the protesters than to fight them.

That victory for Dr. King and his followers marked another turning point for the civil rights movement. Shortly after that, he organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

About two hundred fifty thousand people gathered in the capital. They heard Martin Luther King give his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” He talked about his dream for the future.

Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in nineteen sixty-four. In the years that followed, he continued to work for equality for all Americans.

On April fourth, nineteen sixty-eight, Dr. King was shot in the neck as he stood on the balcony of a Memphis hotel. Dr. King always felt he would die a violent death. But he never believed that his life was more important than the civil rights movement.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: “So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

“Watch the Throne” is a new album from two of the biggest stars in the world of music today, Jay-Z and Kanye West. The two have worked together on several projects in the past. But, “Watch the Throne” is their first joint album. Barbara Klein plays some of the new music.

Kanye West started talking publicly about plans for a recording with Jay-Z a year ago. He and Jay-Z started recording “Watch the Throne” in November of last year. And they did the work in several cities around the world.

The new album was released on August eighth. But the song “Otis” was released in late July. It uses some of Otis Redding’s recording of “Try a Little Tenderness.”

Last month, Jay-Z asked a few reporters to listen to the new music. He said his favorite song on the album at the time was this one, “No Church in the Wild.”

We leave you Kanye West and Jay-Z performing “Made in America,” from their album “Watch the Throne.”

I’m Doug Johnson. Our program was written by June Simms and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer. Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


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