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Black History Month: Remembering Coretta Scott King


HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. February is Black History Month in the United States. This week on our show, we celebrate the history of African-Americans.

We answer a question about races in the United States …

Report about a building that is being saved for historic reasons …

And remember a leader of the American civil rights movement.

Coretta Scott King


That song is called “We Shall Overcome.” It was a major song of the American civil rights movement in the nineteen sixties. Among those who worked toward civil rights for African-Americans were Martin Luther King Junior and his wife, Coretta. Coretta Scott King died last week at the age of seventy-eight. Barbara Klein tells us about her.

BARBARA KLEIN: Coretta Scott was born in the southern state of Alabama in a family that valued education. She graduated from Antioch College in Ohio. Then she studied singing at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

Coretta Scott was already involved in civil rights when she met Martin Luther King Junior in Boston. They were married in nineteen fifty-three. She gave up her music studies to work with her husband in the civil rights movement.

The Kings had four children but that did not stop Missus King from taking part in civil rights activities. She sang, read poems and spoke at more than thirty Freedom Concerts to raise money for the civil rights movement.

After Martin Luther King was murdered in nineteen sixty-eight, Coretta Scott King worked to keep his dreams alive. Here, she speaks to a crowd after her husband’s death:

CORETTA SCOTT KING: "How long will it take, how many men must die before we can really have a free and true and peaceful society?"

Coretta Scott King worked to establish the Martin Luther King Junior holiday that is celebrated each January. And she started the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Missus King served as its president for twenty-six years. Her son Dexter King has served as president since nineteen ninety-four.

Coretta Scott King also worked for the rights of other minorities and women. She once called on American women to unite and form a solid block of woman power to fight the three great evils of racism, poverty and war.

Coretta Scott King suffered a stroke last August. She also suffered from ovarian cancer. Her last public appearance was last month at a dinner in Atlanta to raise money for the King Center. It also celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior Day.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

HOST: Last month, the local government of Montgomery County, Maryland took ownership of a historic building linked to the American Civil War. It was a part of the life of a black slave whose story affected the whole country. Faith Lapidus explains.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Josiah Henson was an African-American slave in the southern state of Maryland in the eighteen hundreds. He lived on a farm owned by the Riley family. In eighteen thirty, he decided to flee to Canada with his family. His owner had refused to honor a promise to permit him to buy his freedom.

In eighteen forty-nine, he wrote a short book about his life. He called it “Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave.” The book described his life as a slave and his escape to the province of Ontario, Canada.

An American writer named Harriet Beecher Stowe read his book. She used Josiah Henson’s experiences to write her own book about a man she called Uncle Tom.

Her book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was published in eighteen fifty-two. It told the world about the horrors of slavery in the United States. It sold three hundred thousand copies in the first year and had a huge effect on the country. It helped build support for the movement to end slavery. President Abraham Lincoln once said that Missus Stowe’s book helped start the Civil War.

Now, the Riley farmhouse in Maryland is the property of Montgomery County. Officials bought it for one million dollars after its owner died in September. They say it could become a museum or an education center.

People in the area have been calling the house “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. That is not really correct. Officials say it was not a slave cabin, but an eighteenth century house and kitchen. Josiah Henson’s writings show that he did sleep in the kitchen.

There is another Uncle Tom’s Cabin, however. A property near the town of Dresden, Ontario, Canada is also known by that name. The Ontario Heritage Foundation owns the property. It includes a cabin, a church and a museum. It is where Josiah Henson settled after escaping from slavery in the United States.

Black History Museum


Our VOA Special English question this week comes from Nigeria. Iyke Chinyere asks about racial groups in the United States.

The United States government lists seven different racial and ethnic populations in the country. They are American Indian and Alaska Native peoples. Asian Americans. Hispanic or Latino populations. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders. White populations. Multiracial populations. And black or African-Americans.

The United States is beginning to honor its minority groups with museums. In two thousand four, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. opened the National Museum of the American Indian. It shows the history and culture of Native Americans.

Last week, the Smithsonian announced plans to build a similar museum in Washington to honor African-Americans.

The National Museum of African-American History and Culture will tell the stories of African-Americans from slavery through the struggle for civil rights. It will be built on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. Officials say the building will be about the size of the National Museum of the American Indian, which is also on the Mall.

President Bush signed the bill ordering the African-American museum to be built more than two years ago. Smithsonian officials say they hope the museum will be completed in about ten years. They expect it to cost about four hundred million dollars. The federal government will pay half the cost; private money will pay for the other half.

But it is not the only museum honoring African-Americans. The Museum of African-American History opened in Detroit, Michigan in nineteen ninety-seven. In December, the Museum of the African Diaspora opened in San Francisco, California. And the city of Seattle, Washington is building the Northwest African-American Museum. It is expected to open next year.


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

Our show was written by Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer.

Send your questions about American life to Please include your full name and mailing address. Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.