50 Years after King: Have We Overcome?

By Tania Brown

Marchers will gather this week in the nations’ capitol to mark the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., delivered his I Have a Dream speech. Dr. King’s speech forced America take a stark look at her promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all men at that time.

How fitting that our nations’ first African American president will also deliver a speech on the same day and in the same place.

Our nation has made strides, leaps and bounds in the 50 years in the area of racial progress. We elected our first African-American president in 2008, black people no longer have to drink out of “Colored Only” water fountains, protestors aren’t attacked by dogs or hosed down by police, by all accounts blatant Jim Crow racism is a thing of the past and children no longer attend segregated schools. We’ve come a long way in equality in education and race relations in this country even though in some aspects, “America has defaulted on (her) this promissory note.”

I think it goes without being said that anyone with any level of social consciousness would agree that Dr. King’s dream has not yet arrived at its fruition and in some aspects is still but a dream. Just take a look at the racial and political landscape of this country and if one is completely honest, we still have a ways to go before we truly overcome.

The 50th anniversary of the march comes just a few months after the Supreme Court struck down a key anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act and subsequently several states, primarily in the South, enacted restrictive voting laws and redistricting plans to what seems like an effort to dilute and in some case, discourage voting. The likes of John Lewis and Ambassador Andrew Young marched in Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, to protect this right.

Much like the ghettos and slums that Dr. King alluded to in the I Have a Dream speech, many still exist today further perpetuating poverty and putting black and brown people at a disadvantage. The economies of many inner cities are crumbling and black and brown people live at higher rates of poverty than any other race.

Just take a look at poverty in Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago; lack of economic opportunities breed violence as we’ve seen on the streets of many American cities. African Americans have higher unemployment rates than Whites. And, although children are not segregated by race in the classroom, educational disparities exist between some inner city schools and suburbia, overall children do not receive the equal preparation for future success.  

The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin shocked some segments of the population.  And, it made us realize that even in 2013, as was realized in 1955-56 with murdered teen Emmett Till; African-American men are profiled and painted with a very broad brush. As was the case of Trayvon, one can be put on trial and convicted of his own murder. The Zimmerman trial again made us look at race relations in America and take a step back.

Many asked the question, how far have we really overcome?

There is much work to be done. Removing race from the equation, the jobs fight of the march still exists today. There are people who work 40 hours per week but still struggle to make ends meet, the working poor. Wages and opportunities need to increase to help level the playing field so that people can still realize the American Dream, and in some cases, end a cycle of poverty in their families. But, just like 50 years ago, the politics still divides us.

The struggle is not over and we must press on to keep those issues such as socioeconomic injustice, healthcare disparities, and educational equality and race relations at the forefront. It’s not enough just to talk about it. Talk is cheap and lip service does nothing for the cause. There needs to be changes in policy to turn this thing around. The mobilizing efforts have to be creative and effective. A new generation of activists is among us and I refuse to believe that they aren’t ready to carry the torch and champion these causes into the next 50 years and beyond.

Tania Brown is the creator and editor of www.politicallybougie.com and former Digital Media Lead for Obama 2012 in Alabama. Follow Tania on Twitter @TaNicoleB.


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