50 years later, what would King think? Progress, but work left

Some who remember the shock and horror of what happened 50 years ago, the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., may wonder how he would view the situation today.

He would be enormously pleased at one aspect of the relationship between white Americans and minorities, we think. King was a champion of civil rights. That is, he wanted to ensure that institutionalized racism had no place in our society.

In that, the movement he helped lead has succeeded brilliantly. Any remnant of laws meant to keep minority Americans as second-class citizens is viewed as a sad curiosity from Jim Crow days — something to be erased from statute books.

But racism remains a factor in the hearts and minds of too many people. They, too, are viewed as despicable monstrosities we wish fervently were not among us.

Only time and an absolute refusal of the overwhelming majority of Americans to tolerate bigotry of any variety will eliminate that vestige of social sickness.

Economically, many African-Americans lag behind their neighbors. Much progress has been made there, as has been noted. But much more remains to be done, and it is fair to ask if our efforts on behalf of economic equality have been effective — or mere window-dressing that ought to be replaced by new strategies.

In public education, the foundation of economic well-being, black Americans lag far behind their white classmates. Strategies to close the gap have failed dismally. In too many places, they have amounted to throwing money at the problem, then walking away from it without regard to results.

We have to do better.

King had a dream, of Americans of all colors being, well, just Americans. So, we think, were King alive today, he would be happy about the progress we have made in some aspects of accomplishing that. At the same time, he would remind us there is much left to accomplish. And he would urge us all to get on with the important — nay, vital — work.

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