History Book


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, April 15th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The WORLD Radio History Book. 

This week marks the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”—we’ll hear excerpts from it.

Plus, 30 years ago today, a tragedy among soccer fans in Sheffield, England.

EICHER: But first, 527 years ago, Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella grant Columbus a commission to find a westward passage to Asia.

Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today with April 17th, 1492. Spain’s monarchy formally agrees to the “Capitulations of Santa Fe.” That commission grants Christopher Columbus a one-tenth-share of all riches obtained from his intended voyage to the West Indies. But he is interested in more than wealth:

COLUMBUS:  As her majesty knows, what I want most from this enterprise is to bring the heathen nations into the company of Christians, thereby spreading the light of revelation around the world.

Audio from the 1985 television miniseries: “Christopher Columbus.”

Columbus first sought support for his westward voyage with the king of Portugal in 1485. King John the Second said no. Other monarchs followed suit.

Columbus found a sympathetic ear in Spain’s queen Isabella in 1486, and spent nearly six years seeking her full support. When he discovered Spain would not agree to his terms, Columbus headed to the French court. But the king of Spain had a change of heart and chased after Columbus. While he doubted the journey would succeed, Spain didn’t want to miss out on the benefits if it did.

Next, April 16th, 1963. While jailed for civil disobedience in Birmingham, Alabama, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., writes an open letter to local church leaders:

KING: My Dear Fellow Clergymen. I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”

A few days earlier, a city newspaper published an editorial from eight clergymen, characterizing King as a meddling outsider. Many religious leaders were supportive of his message, but argued for patience.

KING: For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.”

The letter was largely ignored at first, but the New York Post Sunday Magazine published excerpts on May 19th, 1963. Other publications released the whole letter later that summer. And King included the full text in his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait and recorded himself reading the letter.

KING: Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities. Yours for the cause of peace and brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.

And finally, April 15th, 1989, 30 years ago today.

GAME SOUND: [Play by play]

A championship soccer match begins between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield, England.

GAME SOUND: [Play by play]

Just five-and-a-half minutes into the game, officials stop play. Broadcast coverage here, provided by RTE TV:

GAME SOUND: And the police are on the pitch and they have agreed to stop the proceedings because the crowd is encroaching the pitch due to overcrowding.  

In the hours before the game, thousands of Liverpool supporters clogged the gates outside the stadium. Confusion over which entrances to use created a near human crush. Audio here from Australia TV News:

NEWS COVERAGE OF GAME: The tragedy began when non-ticket holders were allowed to pour into the stadium at Sheffield.

Liverpool fans crammed into the standing-room-only section behind the goal. As more people streamed in, those in the front began to be squeezed against the fence barrier.

NEWS COVERAGE OF GAME: I was against the bar, right at the front, there was a gentleman on my arm. He was saying: “You’re choking me.” And he just fell. He just fell and that was the last of him….

In the end, 96 people died, and more than 750 others were injured.

Initial reports blamed police mismanagement for the deaths. Authorities blamed the fans. An investigation eventually ruled the deaths as “accidental” and a jury let the police off the hook.

Victim families fought the verdict for more than 20 years before a second inquest ruled in 2016 that the fans died due to gross negligence by police. The jury also found that stadium design contributed to the crush.

The Hillsborough Disaster led soccer organizations and stadiums to improve facilities and ticketing procedures. The event also brought cultural changes as soccer fans became less tolerant of disruptive behavior.  

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book. I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/Associated Press)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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