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If Rev., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were alive today, he would be looking forward to his 79th birthday on January 15. Many have attempted over the years to ponder how he would feel and what he would say about many of the conditions and circumstances that have befallen Black people since his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.
From the relatively recent brutal police beating of Rodney King that sparked the Los Angeles Race Riots to the police killing of Tyisha Miller in Riverside, California and countless other acts of undeniable police misconduct against Blacks across the nation; an apparent deterioration of the Black family; the abysmal rate of Black high school graduates; the proliferation of unwed Black teenage mothers, and nearly every other category that compares and contrasts the condition of Blacks in the United States, then and now, one may wonder whether or not the tireless work of Dr. King and other civil rights activists has made a real difference in our society.
Arguably the most notable Black man in modern history, King will forever be known as the father of the civil rights movement, the man who through non-violent means, led the struggle for de-segregation and equality for Black Americans, and the man who had a dream for a color-blind America.
Despite the modest progress of many Blacks in the United States, in contrast to the millions of examples of racial discrimination against Blacks in employment, education, economic empowerment, police treatment, and many other examples that point to a society that remains lacking in true equality, King would most certainly be pleased with the accomplishments of democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, and more specifically, the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire.
It appears that Obama is poised to symbolically deliver on one of the dreams King expressed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., at the March On Washington, ‘the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,’ on August 28, 1963.
In that speech, which ranks at the top of the most powerful orations in the history of our nation, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and credited with mobilizing Blacks as well as Whites to support desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a year later the Voting Rights Act, King expressed a dream for his four children.
“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.” He said.
Obama, who many believe would not be a serious presidential candidate, because of his Black skin, soundly defeated his opponents in a state with less than two percent Blacks. As his wave of multi-racial support follows him from Iowa to New Hampshire, then South Carolina and Super Tuesday, on February 5, it would certainly appear that at least in his case, the nation is supporting him because they are captivated by his message and not detracted by the color of his skin color.
Aside from Obama’s surprising momentum however, one might seek to understand why did it take so long for King’s dreams to be resoundingly displayed in America.
As a participant in the historical March On Washington in 1963, this writer has first-hand recollection of the coming-together of men, women and children of all ages, races, and religious backgrounds who were moved by King’s message and who were inspired to take that message, and hope, back to their respective communities.
Baby-boomers, like myself, those born in the late 1940s and in the 1950s still have vivid memories of a life and struggle in this country that seems to have been lost among many of the children and most of the grandchildren of those baby boomers.
They cannot visualize the television images of Blacks being attacked by water hoses, police dogs, and ‘billy-club’ armed police officers on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama in 1964. They cannot fathom being denied food service at many neighborhood restaurants in nearly every city in the nation. And while many may know the name, the new generation of Blacks may not appreciate the decision Rosa Parks made to ignore Jim Crow Laws, which subsequently launched the successful 382-Day Bus Boycott in Birmingham, Alabama that ultimately led the Supreme Court to outlaw racial segregation on any form of public transportation.
They do not have any conception of the number of Black-owned business establishments that did not survive the evolving integration movement. They cannot imagine being denied entrance to a White movie theater and later allowed to enter and sit in the ‘Colored Section’ only.
Unfortunately also, many of the offspring of those baby-boomers cannot grasp the feeling of learning that their parent was denied a job or promotion opportunity because of their Black skin. They will never have the opportunity to sit with an aunt, grandparent or other family member who was able to talk about their parents rearing in a segregated South or as a slave.
Similarly, they are generally oblivious to the fact that King, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and other civil rights leaders and organizations marched, demonstrated, and were frequently arrested and tossed in jail, in pursuit of the right to vote, equal opportunities, and other liberties that are now usually taken for granted.
At the same time it is also prudent to point-out other BGO’s (blind glimpses of the obvious). Young people today do not have to hear the repeated tales of their ancestors walking five miles to school. They cannot imagine asking for a dollar on a Sunday afternoon that would allow them to go to a movie, buy some popcorn, and have a hamburger, fries and a shake on the way home, Five cents for a candy bar, and $8.95 for a pair of Converse All Stars basketball shoes, is about as real to them as ‘ET.’
While the comparative list goes on and on, there are some things that have not changed, despite the dreams of Dr. King, the apparent success of Barack Obama, or the phenomenal success of Oprah, Denzel, 50-Cent, BET’s Bob Johnson, and thousands of other extremely successful Black doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and others, across the board.
The playing field is still not level. The ‘oasis of freedom and justice’ King longed for in August of 1963 has not been realized for the majority of Blacks in America.
It is therefore, incumbent upon all Blacks to remain mindful of the struggle and the events of the Civil Rights Movement. We must teach our young people our history so that we man inspire them to achieve all that they are capable of achieving. We must celebrate our history and the struggle of our ancestors so that eventually ‘freedom will ring’ and we will all ‘be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”