King's Dream after 30 Years: Deferred? Denied? or Dead?

CARL T. ROWAN

August 31, 1993|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Saturday we saw in this nation's capital a pitiably feeble re-enactment of the great civil-rights March on Washington of 1963. That was the occasion on which Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his dream of a new, great America of racial and social justice.

The 30th-anniversary ''march'' was for old-timers an embarrassment. So it probably was an honest commentary about what this country has done to King's dream.

When that historic protest march occurred 30 years ago, black children were being battered and bloodied simply for trying to buy a hamburger or drink a cola in Jim Crow restaurants or fancy Southern department stores. Black travelers were being humiliated on buses and trains, or when they sought shelter in hotels and motels. Jim Crow was king from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Indianola, Mississippi.

That 1963 March provoked Congress to pass the Public Accommodations Act of 1964, which erased most of this kind of ugly racism in movies, restaurants and other facilities.

In 1963, no black person had ever sat with the president's Cabinet, or on the U.S. National Security Council. There are now four blacks with full-fledged Cabinet rank in the Clinton administration.

Black political power was almost inconsequential nationally in 1963, and was worse than non-existent in deep South areas where black people were being maimed and murdered for simply trying to register to vote. That 1963 March on Washington inspired Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As a result, blacks now wield real power in Congress. Black mayors wrestle with the destinies of our greatest cities. Some 8,000 other black elected officials are changing the American political landscape.

The American judicial system was disgracefully Jim Crow and white-male-dominated in 1963. From judges to U.S. attorneys to clerks and bailiffs, our court system is remarkably more diverse now in race, gender and social-political orientation.

In 1963, state universities throughout the South were fighting to block or limit the enrollment of black students. Their sports teams were lily-white. Now we see huge black populations at these same schools, some of which dare to put all-black basketball teams on the court. Last year blacks led the University of Alabama to a national football championship.

But it all can add up to a delusion of progress. Things are worse in many ways. Only the bravest whites speak out for affirmative action in the workplace or on campuses. We hear white male screams of paranoia that are more devastating socially than were the cries of naked racism 30 years ago.

The 1963 March on Washington struck the consciences of college officials who began to scour the cotton fields and peanut patches of Dixie to find black youngsters worthy of scholarships. Now college campuses from New York to California are meaner places where kids of Ku Klux Klan mentality cry ''political correctness abuse'' against anyone who tries to curb their verbal, written, physical and other outbursts of bigotry.

Anyone remotely inclined to think that King's dream has been fulfilled must also look at the broad indicators of social deterioration in America over the last 30 years.

* The median income of black families was 53 per cent of the median income of white families in 1963. It was 57 per cent in 1991. Scant progress!

* Thirty years ago 23.1 per cent of the nation's children lived in poverty. By 1973, after Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, the percentage of impoverished children was reduced 14.4 per cent. But by 1991 the poverty rate for our kids under age 18 was back up to 21.8 per cent. Blacks, Hispanics and other minority children made up a dismaying portion of the children living in need.

* Births out of wedlock were 23.6 per cent of all births for blacks in 1963, and 3.1 per cent of white births. In 1990 the out-of-wedlock rate had risen to 66.5 per cent for blacks and 20.4 per cent for whites. There has been a drastic deterioration in sexual ''morality'' for all of America since 1963.

* The number of single-parent families in the U.S. has risen from 2.2 million in 1960 to 10.5 million in 1992. Single-parent families among blacks have risen from 23 per cent of all black parent-child living arrangements in 1960 to 62 per cent in 1992, figures that tell a shocking story of what has happened to the black family since the March on Washington.

* In July 1963 black teen-age unemployment was at a horrendous 31.2 per cent. In July 1993 it was at 32.7 per cent. No King dream realized there!

The years since that celebrated March on Washington have thrust many blacks into roles of power and prestige in government, the military, the media, corporate America. But the great mass of black people has benefited only marginally, and the wretched underclass of 1993 is perhaps more hopeless now than 30 years ago.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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