At the gathering, Martin Luther King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech, part of which stated that his four “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” The speech pitched for the emancipation of Blacks from the yoke of racist oppression, but it also struck a universal note that echoed the founding constitution of America that “all men are created equal with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Dr King’s speech was remarkable for its rhetorical cadence and pithy message, so powerful that it resulted into the promulgation of a raft of legislations that aimed at breaking down the racist attitudes and norms that had held down the African-American in the United States. They included the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the Voting Right Act of 1965. The first, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, outlawed businesses in which the federal government had interest from refusing to serve people on the basis of colour of their skin; it sought to ensure all races have access to all public places and facilities. The Act enforced this by giving power to the attorney general to sue local governments to desegregate schools and other public places. The second banned poll taxes, literacy tests and other discriminating practices that were used to disallow Blacks from voting.
The impact of these Acts was phenomenal in redressing the exclusion of Blacks from the political process, resulting into huge increase in their representation in the process. For once, Blacks were picking up jobs hitherto denied them on account of the colour of their skin and black faces that had been a rarity could now be seen regularly on many campuses across the US. The political and economic integration and ascendancy of African-Americans in the US is personified by President Barack Obama himself, an achievement that would not have materialised without the empowerment of Blacks whose votes partly ensured that he became the president. Apart from President Barack Obama, cities like Washington, Philadelphia, Denver and others regularly choose Black mayors to run their affairs. Strides have also been made in the corporate world as companies like Merck, Xerox and American Express are all under the managerial leadership of the Blacks.
Yet, even with these considerable achievements in the last 50 years, there is still this persisting sense that African-Americans are still lagging behind the other races in the US. Overall unemployment rate in the US is steadily falling, hovering around 7.4 per cent, but it is as high as 13.7 per cent among Blacks, indicating that poverty is highly prevalent among Blacks. High incidence of poverty is owed to high rate of school drop outs, early pregnancy, single parenthood and a general disdain for education among Blacks. There are also many more Blacks in prison compared to other races.
The deplorable social and economic condition among Blacks has given rise to disenchantment with the Obama administration for being nonchalant and unfeeling towards their plight. The president’s response seems to be that it would be unwise to pursue policies targeted solely at one racial group, believing that with the US economy in gradual resurgence soon the benefits would permeate all segments of the society. President Obama may loath to be tagged as a president for only the Blacks; even so, he should find a way to assuage increasing rage among Blacks arising from their deteriorating condition. This can take the form of taking the lead in abrogating extant laws and codes that still see the Blacks as sub–human, like the one that freed George Zimmerman who killed Trevor Martin in Florida. He should also lead Black leaders in raising consciousness of those at the lower rung of society to wake up, as was done in the 1960s/70s that encouraged people to work hard to lift themselves up from their deplorable state. Young men and women should be told to stay in school and colleges till they acquire certificates and diplomas which are imperative to getting into well-paid jobs and climbing out of poverty.