The tragedy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination is embedded in our cultural fabric: another moral leader lost to us because of his revolutionary actions. We can honor his death by remembering his life and legacy. We’ve come far since Selma, but have much further to go to achieve racial equality in our society. As the North Carolina pastor, Reverend William Barber ll PhD, said:
“The one thing that would be dishonorable for us is to bring all this attention to the assassination of Dr. King and not have a resurrection of the efforts and the unfinished business dealing with systemic racism, systemic poverty.”
Today, just as in Selma in 1965, we worry that our black teen boys will get home safely. According to an an analysis by Pro Publica, a young black man is at a 10 to 40 times greater risk of being killed by a police officer than a young white man.
In 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case of Brown vs.The Board of Education that public school segregation was inherently unconstitutional. And, yet, today school segregation is on the rise. As Pro Publica reports, the number of black students in schools where 90% or more of the students are minorities rose from 2.3 million to over 2.9 million between 1993 and 2001.
These schools, whose white population is 1% or less, are known as apartheid schools. Most are in the Northeast and Midwest, but nearly 25% of black students in Alabama attend such schools. Fifty-three percent of black students In school districts released from desecration orders between 1990 and 2011 attend such schools.
VOTER SUPPRESSION AND SCHOOL SEGREGATION
At the time of Selma, poll taxes and literacy tests—as well as intimidation, murder and assault— were employed to deny black citizens the right to vote. In recent years, thirty-seven state legislature have considered or enacted voter ID laws.
It is exactly these kinds of ID laws that prohibited African Americans from voting in Mississippi prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Everyone does not have a photo ID and those who don’t are likely to vote Democrat. In North Carolina, Republicans have pretty much admitted that their voter suppression laws, including restrictions on early voting, are blatantly partisan.
In truth, in-person voter impersonation is virtually non-existent. According to a nationwide analysis of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000, the rate of voter fraud is infinitesimal.
In 2013, the New York Times reported that the Justice department is sueing Texas over a state law requiring voters to show photo ID. The Justice Department is also asking, in both cases, that a pre-clearance requirement from the federal government be reimposed on Texas before the state makes any changes to its voting laws.
A LOT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE
According to a recent Pew Foundation poll, “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal: Many Americans See Racial Disparities,” 49% of Americans say that in terms of racial equality, “a lot more” needs to be done.” And yet, according to the survey, the majority of people—73% of blacks and 82% of whites—say the two races generally get along pretty well. According to Pew:
The analysis finds that the economic gulf between blacks and whites that was present half a century ago largely remains. When it comes to household income and household wealth, the gaps between blacks and whites have widened. On measures such as high school completion and life expectancy, they have narrowed. On other measures, including poverty and homeownership rates, the gaps are roughly the same as they were 40 years ago.
FREEDOM IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE
Freedom is a constant struggle. Here are some resources for remembering Dr. King.
The recorded speeches of Dr. King; The Best of the Speeches.
For a documentary on the Civil Rights Movement, watch the PBS Special: Eyes on the Prize
My favorite book on the Civil Rights Movement is Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democrary by Bruce Watson. Read it if you want to know what really happened during the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties.
Here are two great albums of classic protest songs.
- Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through its Songs
- Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.