We’re not as comfortable as others who declare that if Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, he’d support one action and discourage another. We don’t presume to know what he’d think about what has occurred — and not occurred — with regard to race and poverty in America in the 50 years since his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Racism still exists today, though in many ways it may be more subtle than it was on Aug. 28, 1963. Laws — long overdue and still imperfect — have at least outlawed overt acts of discrimination based on race and other factors.
Poverty — another wrong that the Rev. King sought to right — also exists today. Indeed, the 1963 march on Washington was not just about race; it was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
Poverty is again growing. Forty-six million Americans now live in poverty, which is nothing short of scandalous in a nation where vast wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. Additionally, 24 million adults who want full-time work can’t find it. There are roughly three black children living in poverty for every white child; black children enjoy fewer educational opportunities than white children do and the jobless rate for blacks is much higher than the rate for whites.
While we would err grievously in not recognizing that there is work to do in the struggle for equality, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that progress has been made.
The most conspicuous example: Bigots were unable to keep thoughtful Americans from electing — and re-electing — a black man to be our president. That was a breathtaking accomplishment. Sadly, bigotry is still evident in the attacks of some Americans who cannot abide a black man in the Oval Office and in efforts to make voting more difficult for blacks.
But President Obama is not the only black success story. Far from it. Blacks have increasingly been judged by the content of their character and their talents in being tapped for the highest posts in our armed forces, our judiciary and law enforcement. Yes, there could — and should — be more, just as there should be more blacks in corporate leadership positions. And there will be, with continued efforts to diminish ignorance and bigotry and as the number of role models for young blacks continues to increase.
There is no magic formula by which Americans can achieve the Rev. King’s dream. Even 50 years later, it’s a long way off. A good start would be to make his dream their own.