57 Years After the March on Washington, Have MLK’s Dreams been Realized?

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." 

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (August 28, 1963)

Fifty-seven years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington D.C., where 250,000 people gathered in one of the largest political rallies in U.S. history. The March is credited with helping pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

While Dr. King’s speech is rightfully immortalized, fewer remember that the March’s organizers at the time also had very concrete political demands that were as much about economic justice as racial equality. On the recent anniversary of the March, I began to wonder whether or not the March’s “10 Demands” for freedom, education and equality have been realized – and, more importantly, what we still need to do as a nation to see them fulfilled. In brief, the March’s 10 demands can be summarized as follows:

  1. Equal access to public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education and the right to vote
  2. Withhold funds from all programs that discriminate
  3. Desegregate schools
  4. Enforce the 14th Amendment
  5. Ban discrimination in housing
  6. Authorize the attorney general to sue when constitutional rights are violated
  7. Fund a federal program to train and place unemployed workers in meaningful and dignified jobs at a decent wage
  8. A national minimum wage that will give all Americans a decent standard of living
  9. A broadened Fair Labor Act
  10. A federal Fair Employment Act barring discrimination by federal, state and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies and trade unions

We can review each demand and see how far we have come, but it’s also clear that more must be done – and more must be demanded. This resonates more today than it has on any other anniversary of the historic march.

Equal access: This was accomplished by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, in 2013, the Supreme court significantly reduced the Voting Rights Act, ushering in more voter suppression.

Withholding funds: Although Congress can withhold funds, it has not done so because the Civil Rights Act is compensatory. It compensates for the wrongdoing and does not punish the wrongdoer.

Desegregate schools: This was technically accomplished, but many schools remain functionally segregated due to inadequate funding at the public-school level. Economic disadvantage clearly leads to a form of economic segregation for many Americans still.

14th Amendment: The idea that all persons in the United States should be guaranteed equal protection of the law has yet to be accomplished. The Supreme Court has blocked efforts to only count U.S. citizens, so there is clearly more work to be done.

Ban housing discrimination: This was accomplished with the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Right to sue for civil rights: This was accomplished, but remains under what seems like constant attack.

Training for jobs: Not accomplished. Job training programs created at the federal and state levels have fallen short for decades.

Viable minimum wage: Not accomplished. While the minimum wage has risen over the years, it has not been commensurate with need.

Fair labor: This was accomplished technically but enforcement, which is often lax, remains key.

Access to jobs: This was accomplished with the Civil Rights Act, but underlying issues make this a constant struggle.

While it’s clear that many of the demands of the March on Washington have been met, an analysis of the current economic landscape shows that much remains to be done. Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee released a report examining recent economic progress and remaining challenges facing the Black Community in America. Many of its key points suggest that we have a long way to go.

  • Historically, the unemployment rate for Black Americans has been approximately twice the rate for Whites. Today it is 16.1% for Black workers and 12% for Whites. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Q2, 2020)
  • During most of the past 50 years, Black Americans have experienced unemployment rates that would be deemed recessionary had they been experienced by the entire population.
  • Black workers have been disproportionally hurt by the overall decline in unions and union membership.
  • The typical Black household earns a fraction of White households—just 59 cents for every dollar – a difference of about $29,000 per year.
  • Black Americans are over twice as likely to live in poverty as White Americans and Black children are three times as likely to live in poverty as White children.
  • The median wealth of Black families ($17,000) is less than one-tenth that of White families ($171,000).
  • Much less than half (42%) of Black families own their homes, compared to almost three-quarters (73%) of White families.
  • Non-Hispanic Black Americans have a life expectancy that is 3.6 years lower than non-Hispanic White Americans.

Amid the gloom, there are some rays of light:

  • High school graduation rates for Black and White Americans have nearly converged.
  • The share of Blacks who are college graduates has more than doubled since 1990, from 11% to 25%—but still lags far behind Whites.
  • The incarceration rate for Black Americans is falling but is still nearly six times the rate for White Americans.

It is abundantly clear that while many of the technical demands made during the March have been met, underlying issues remain. We need to demand more, in the form of qualified immunity reform, affordable childcare and access to technology for all school children. However, it is much more significant than making additional tactical demands. A demographic shift will soon lead to an economic wave that our country is ill-prepared to weather.

While Black people were the face of discrimination in 1963, their percentage of the population was relatively small. By 2043, most people in the United States will be Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian. White Americans will be in the minority, so future economic prosperity of our entire country—not just any one community—depends on pursuing the ideals of the March and the vision of Dr. King, where we’re all judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin or other physiological traits.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Big Three Rescue Part 2 -- Let's learn from Chrysler 1979

#WhoWillStand

Our Nation: So where do we go from here? Part 2