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.
School Segregation on the Rise
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. According to a recent New York Times article:
More than half of the nation’s schoolchildren are in racially concentrated districts, where over 75 percent of students are either white or nonwhite.
Here’s an interactive map of the US showing the uneven distribution and black and white students across schools.
Voter Suppression on the Rise
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. As of January 2020, 34 states enforce (or were scheduled to begin enforcing) voter identification requirements. A total of 19 of these states require voters to present photo identification, while others accept other forms of identification.
It is exactly these kinds of ID laws that prohibited African Americans from voting in Mississippi and the South prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Everyone does not have a photo ID and those who don’t are more likely to vote Democrat. In North Carolina, voter suppression laws, including restrictions on early voting, have been found to be blatantly partisan.
In fact, in-person voter impersonation is virtually non-existent. Extensive research by the Brennan Center for Justice reveals that voter fraud is a myth.
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.
- Listen to the recorded speeches of Dr. King:
- Watch the powerful PBS special on the Civil Rights Movement:
- Read one of the best books on the Civil Rights Movement:
- Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy
- Listen to classic protest music:
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.