Last week marked 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. Here is my report card on how America has done on the particular issues he raised in that speech all those years ago:
Scale: A for excellent, B for good, C for so-so, D for bad, F for failing.
From best to worst:
“For Whites Only” signs: A.
Public Accommodations: A.
In 1963 the Green Book was still in print, listing places where blacks on the road could shop, eat and sleep. It is now a historical curiosity.
Voter Turnout: A.
Now generally equal to whites among those registered to vote, higher than whites in some states.
Voting Rights: B.
Way better than in 1963 in states like Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, where fewer than a third of blacks were registered to vote. Probably one of the clearest civil rights achievements. Yet it is becoming undone: In 2013 the Supreme Court in effect gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Republicans have been passing laws to make it harder to vote, much harder for blacks on average than for whites. Meanwhile 7% of blacks cannot vote because of a prison record. It is 20% or more in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia.
Citizenship Rights: C.
Racial profiling continues, despite breaking the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. Blacks still frequently face nearly all-white juries. Young blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rate, yet blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Black men are imprisoned at rates unheard of in other countries – or even in America in the 1970s. That in turn affects voting rights – see above.
Housing Desegregation: D.
Markedly better than 50 years ago, but America still remains highly segregated by race. About 90% of suburban whites, for example, live in places that are less than 1% black. Racial steering is still widely practised despite being outlawed.
Despite affirmative action and so on, blacks are still about twice as likely to be out of work as whites. If you take education into account, the rate is 1.53 to 1.73 times higher. Blacks have to stay in school about two years longer to make the same money as a white person.
In 1963 48% of blacks lived in poverty, three times the white rate. Now 28% do, three times the white rate. One of the demands of the March on Washington was a minimum wage of $2.00 an hour ($15.23 in current dollars) – enough to lift working Americans out of poverty. In terms of 1963 dollars, the minimum wage has gone from $1.25 in 1963 to $1.24 in 2013.
Police Brutality: F.
In 2012 police officers, security guards and vigilantes killed at least 136 unarmed black people – unarmed! Trayvon Martin is just what made the news. The police still get away with murder. The civil rights reforms of the 1950s and 1960s left the police and the courts pretty much untouched. It is next to impossible to prove in court that a police officer or judge acted out of racism.