“I Have a Dream” + 50 Years
Today's OC Register has an op/ed by Community Advocates' Joe Hicks. He analyses the progress that has been made and some of the challenges that remain fifty years after Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream oration.
Today's Wall Street Journal carries an incisive “> link) by one of the nation's most thoughtful and honest commentators on race and related issues, Prof. John McWhorter. It's worth a read as well.
Civil rights and civil wrongs
by Joe R. Hicks
Fifty years ago the largest crowd that had ever gathered on the Washington Mall listened as speakers from civil rights organizations took the podium to demand “jobs and justice.” The speech that galvanized the audience, believed by many to be one of the greatest ever given by an American orator, was delivered by an impassioned young preacher, Martin Luther King Jr. He told the crowd “I still have a dream.”
His speech was largely improvised, and King said his dream was that “… this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
How well has the country done in that regard? America is not a racial Nirvana. However, a few facts from the past show just how far the nation has come in a very short period.
In 1940, 87 percent of blacks lived in poverty. That number was down to 47 percent in 1960, and 28 percent in 2011. The black college population has grown from 45,000 in 1940 to well over 1.4 million today, a thirtyfold increase. Those with college degrees has increased fourteenfold. Median incomes of black families, when adjusted for inflation, is 80 percent higher today than black families at the time of the March on Washington.
Forty-three years ago there were only 1,469 black elected officials in the entire nation. That number had risen to 10,500 by 2011. In 2008 the nation elected a bi-racial man, Barack Obama, as president and selected him again to serve for a second term. Eric Holder, a black man, serves as the nation's attorney general and the president's security advisor is Susan Rice, a black woman.
It is noteworthy that with all the angst among current black leaders over voter ID laws, in the 2012 presidential election blacks voted at higher rates than whites, according to Census data.
This must all be measured against the nation's race relations when King gave his speech. Only one year later, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Scherer were tortured and killed by members of the Mississippi White Knights of Ku Klux Klan. Nine years earlier, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was tortured, shot and dumped into Mississippi's Tallahatchie River, the body weighted-down by a cotton gin fan tied around his neck by barbed wire.
In 1963, the nation's black citizens – in what was called the “Deep South” – could not vote, were restricted from using public accommodations, subjected to anti-miscegenation laws, forced to attend “separate but equal” public schools, and hemmed in by racist home ownership and rental covenants. Jim Crow laws still dominated the social order and, as Eleanor Holmes Norton recently said, “it was perfectly acceptable in 1963” to be a racist. She added “it's not respectable” today.
Still, problems do persist. Among racial and ethnic groups, blacks are over-represented among homicide victims; blacks were 55 percent of homicide victims in 2010, but only 13 percent of the population. In the early 1960s, births to unwed black mothers stood at 25 percent. Today, more than half of all black children live in fatherless households, and only about 25 percent of black women over 18 are married and living with a spouse.
Today's civil rights leaders grudgingly admit progress has been made, and then resort to divisive rhetoric, missing the real issues facing the country. The task for today's civil rights leaders, if they wish to remain relevant, is to take on today's daunting urban dysfunction.