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Mississippi’s Tortured Civil Rights History

Mississippi occupies a distinct and dramatic place in the history of America’s civil rights movement. No state in the South was more resistant to the struggle for black equality. No place was more violent.

While the history of civil rights activists has been well documented in radio and television, the stories and strategies of their white opponents are more hidden. Drawing on newly discovered archival audio and groundbreaking research on the civil rights era, a new documentary from American RadioWorks explores the extraordinary tactics white Mississippians used to Block integration with blacks.

WFPL will air “State of Siege: Mississippi Whites and the Civil Rights Movement” tonight at 8pm. You can listen to the documentary now.

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Getting Equal Access to Transportation

Many African American communities were weakened or nearly destroyed by highways built in the 1960s. Today, bus service to poor neighborhoods is often cut in favor of more expensive rail.

Tonight at 8pm on WFPL, American RadioWorks presents “Back of the Bus: Race, Mass Transit and Inequality,” a new documentary about the fight for equal rights on America’s roads and transit lines.

This program visits communities across America to find out why people of color still struggle for equal treatment in public transportation.

We highly recommend this doc – and you can listen to it right now, on-demand.

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Say It Plain: A Century of African American Oratory

Saturday, February 27, 2010 9pm

Producer: American RadioWorks
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When the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech is broadcast each February to mark Black History Month, the magnetic cadence of his words is almost impossible to resist.

Like black speakers before and after him, King testified to how America betrayed its founding ideals through slavery, segregation and racial bigotry. King and scores of other black orators sounded the charge against Jim Crow and stung the moral conscience of America. Many powered their messages with relentless optimism that one day change would come.

This documentary highlights a selection of landmark sermons, speeches and broadcasts by African American orators over the past century. From Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, to Fannie Lou Hamer and Malcolm X, to Shirley Chisholm and Julian Bond, you’ll hear the stirring words of African American figures as they call for action on civil rights and the unmet promise of democracy.

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Can Do: Stories of Black Visionaries, Seekers and Entrepreneurs

Saturday, February 20, 2010 9pm

Producer: The Kitchen Sisters
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From The Kitchen Sisters and PRX, a new Black History Month Special with host, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress, Alfre Woodard. These stories come from The Kitchen Sisters collection — stories of black pioneers, self-made men and self-taught women, neighborhood heros and visionaries. People who said “yes we can” and then did.

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Race and the Space Race

Saturday, February 13, 2010 9pm

Producer: Richard Paul and Soundprint
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The Space Age began when America was going through a wrenching battle over Civil Rights. And because the heart of the old Confederacy was chosen as its base, NASA played an unintended role in Civil Rights history. In this program, we hear how this happened and we hear the stories of the people who broke the color line at NASA. Their stories of frustration and their stories of perseverance. Produced by Richard Paul with Soundprint and narrated by Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in Space, “Race and the Space Race” tells the unlikely story of Civil Rights and the Space Program.

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Who Is This Man? A State of the Re:Union Special

Saturday, February 13, 2010 8pm

Producer: Al Letson (NPR/PRX)
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MLK Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech has become the shorthand of the Civil Rights Movement– but we might never have heard it, if it were not for another man, who’s largely been forgotten by history: Bayard Rustin. In this program hour, we explore the life and legacy of Mr. Rustin, a black, gay, Quaker who brought Gandhian non-violent protest to the Civil Rights movement in America.

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In-Depth News Local News

Frankfort Marks Black History Month

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Kentuckians from across the commonwealth gathered Thursday in the rotunda of the State Capitol for the sixth annual Black History Month celebration.

Black History Month was the brainchild of Dr. Carter Woodson, the son of former slaves, who worked in Kentucky coal mines to put himself through school. Graduating from Berea College in 1903, he went on to receive his doctorate from Harvard.

In 1926 he began promoting the second week of February as Negro History Week. He chose February because it coincided with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglas. In 1976, February was declared United States Black History Month.            

This year’s Black History Month Celebration at the State Capitol was particularly significant because it marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Among those honored was the late Curlee Brown of Paducah, the first president of the Paducah-McCracken County chapter of the NAACP.

Brown died in November 1976, but his legacy lives on, says John Johnson of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.

“The person we honor today, not unlike Abraham Lincoln, stood tall when few others were willing to stand at all,” says Brown.

Also speaking at the event was Governor Steve Beshear. He told the crowd seated around the statue of Abraham Lincoln, the state and nation have made great strides in the fight for equal rights, but “racial boundaries have not been completely eroded.”

“There aren’t any more separate water fountains, hospitals or restaurants,” says Beshear. “Nowadays, inequality is evident in places much more difficult to see – in prisons, in outlying neighborhoods, in statistics.”

Beshear wasn’t alone in noting the significance of the election and inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president. Lexington Rep. Jesse Crenshaw called Obama “an answer to many of our prayers.”

“In his presidential acceptance speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, Obama said, If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer!” recalled Crenshaw.

But John Johnson of the Human Rights Commission told the crowd, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

He pointed to a new report released by the commission titled The State of African-Americans in Kentucky. The commission says some of the statistics in the 23-page report “are shocking,” but were compiled “to shine the light on areas where our state desperately needs change.”

African-Americans are seven-point-five percent of the state’s population, but 30-percent of blacks in Kentucky live in poverty. That compares to 15-percent of white Kentuckians.

And in the Louisville area alone, African-Americans die from stroke 66-percent more often than do whites, 29-percent more often from heart disease and 25-percent more often from cancer – numbers the report says also reflect a national trend.