published Sunday, August 25th, 2013

I have a dream: For 50 years of gain there still is much to do

  • photo
    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C. in this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“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 my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

If these words don’t make chills run along your spine, you are not human.

Wednesday will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.

The speech, now world famous, was intended to be brief, and nowhere on the three-page, type-written copy that King began reading from that Aug. 28, 1963, day was the word “dream.”

But several minutes in, King stopped reading and looked up to the 250,000 people in front of him and to the skies above. Then he began just talking, preaching, reaching the rainbow of people who had shown up for the March on Washington for jobs and freedom.

He picked up a line that he’d used a week earlier in Chicago; two months earlier at a mass rally in Detroit; and several other times in the previous year, according to historians. But this time, the audience was larger and in a tense capital where troops where massed just outside the city in case President Kennedy had to sign the already-prepared martial-law orders. This time the event was televised. And this time the crowd was electrified.

Still, it wasn’t until King’s assassination that the speech, offered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, would become immortal. Then, in the words of Drew Hansen, author of “The Dream,” a book on the speech, it became “one of those things that we look to when we want to know what America means.”

As King spoke, more than two-thirds of the nation’s black people lacked the right to vote, to attend integrated schools or to use the same public facilities as whites.

King’s speeches and rallies — along with those of many other activists — finally made civil rights the nation’s top domestic political issue. That same summer marked 1,122 civil rights demonstrations around the nation and about 20,000 arrests, almost all in the South, according to USA Today.

Now, half a century later, there are clear gains, but not enough.

Only 15 percent of black adults today lack a high school education, compared with 75 percent 50 years ago. Three and half times as many now attend college, and for every graduate in 1963, there are now five. The number living in poverty has declined 23 percent. Those owning homes have increased 14 percent.

But, according to the National Urban League’s “State of Black America 2012 report, “almost all of the economic gains of the last 30 years have been lost” since late 2007, and worse, “the ladders of opportunity for reaching the black middle class are disappearing.”

In 2010, the median household income for African Americans was 30 percent less than the median income of white households 30 years ago. African-American household income fell more than two and a half times farther than white household income during the Great Recession, 7.7 percent versus 2.9 percent. Black home ownership rates also fell at roughly double the rates of whites, essentially wiping out the gains in home ownership since 2000. And today, more than a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line, compared to about 10 percent of white people.

Adding insult to injury, the Supreme court last month decided there is no longer a need for the backbone of the Voting Rights Act. Even as justices gutted it, a free-for-all began in several majority Republican states to make it harder for minorities to vote.

We cannot let go of Dr. King’s dream. Our dream. Let freedom ring.

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jjmez said...

Much of the problems and decline today in the black community can be directly traced to the mass incarceration, stiffer drug sentences and school to prison pipeline for minorities, especially blacks. When the same decline began to be noted in poor, middle-classed and up whites there was a rush to slacken and modify the rules. Hence, Drug Courts suddenly sprung to life. Too many whites were being locked up and their children placed in foster care.

Excuses have been laid on black on black crime. However, that's a scapegoat, a misnomer, that lacks reality. As 84% of whites killed annually are killed by other whites. But you'll never hear the term white on white crime used.

Minorities, especially blacks, shouldn't really get too excited about Eric Holder's stand on mandatory minimum drug sentencing. As he still left an opening that can be used where minorities, especially blacks, will likely receive stiffer drug sentencing, based on the courts decision and how charges are filed against an individual. It's already easy to determine the likely outcome for an individual arrested, based on just reading how the charges are written. Example: Middle-classed white guy use a hammer to beat the crap out of a prostitute. Claims he wants to be a budding Ted Bundy, and he's charged with assault. Black, brown or poor white guy punches someone and knocks them out, they're charged with attempted murder.

When Holder stated to the effect and suggested that anyone charged with a drug crime that's also charged with being in a gang could still receive mandatory minimum jail time, that was an indicator the courts could use its discretion in how much jail or prison time an individual would get. Since on a local level in many jurisdictions anytime a minority, especially black, is charged with drugs, there's also an immediate effort to tie them in with gangs even when there is direct evidence the individual is in a gang. Eric Holder's plan will not benefit many blacks and browns. It's nothing more than a red herring being offered, false hope and a pretense of ending the war on drugs for minorities. Holder still gives the police, prosecutors, judges and jurors a loophole through which they can still hand out stiffer jail and prison for blacks and browns, while cocaine and meth users (which are most often white can receive lesser jail and prison sentences or probation and drug treatment in lieu of jail and prison time).

August 25, 2013 at 9:29 a.m.
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