Crystal Wright: A Dream Half Realized
By Crystal Wright
Today, we honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s triumphant fight to gain freedom for the Negro “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” His I Have A Dream speech delivered in 1963 on steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington before an estimated crowd of 300,000 blacks and whites, ultimately led to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
As we reflect upon his legacy in 2011, Americans have elected their first black president Barak Obama and black Americans have attained the freedom King so desperately wanted for his people. I suspect if he had lived, he would have wept during Obama’s inauguration to see generations of blacks having overcome the brutalities and humiliations of segregation to have one of their own rise to the highest office in the land.
Regardless of your political beliefs, the election of Obama was a defining moment in our country. But as much as things have changed for black Americans, they have also tragically remained the same for many. While blacks have attained equality and the freedom to vote, work, live, eat and shop wherever they like, they as an ethnic group on average have not achieved economic parity to whites. In fact, the gulf between low-income blacks the black middle and upper classes has widened at an alarming rate since passage of the Civil Rights Act.
King described the state of the Negro in his Dream speech: “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.” Sadly, nearly 50 years later this could well describe the state of low-income blacks today which is much worse now then it was in 1963.
In 2011, more than 70% of black children are born out of wedlock compared to 30% of white children (Princeton-Brookings 2010 Fall Policy Brief Strengthening Fragile Families). According to “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” published by the Pew Center on the States, one in nine black men between the ages of 20-34 are in prison compared to one in 30 other men of the same age. Many studies demonstrate the per-capita welfare spending is higher for black recipients because the percentage of the total black population that receives welfare is greater than the percentage of the white population that receives welfare.
Why is it that other ethnic groups can come to this country, particularly first generation Asians and some Latinos, and climb the economic ladder faster than some blacks who’ve lived here for generations? All ills plaguing poor blacks can be attributed to one thing: the disintegration of the black family.
What’s eerily troubling is former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicated this demise in 1965. I remember interviewing Senator Moynihan years ago when I worked for ABC News and being very impressed by him. A colleague recommended I read Moynihan’s 1965 report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, also known as the Moynihan Report written to President Johnson. I was forever changed by it, as made complete sense and couldn’t understand why Moynihan was so vilified at the time for publishing it.
He warned “the family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown.” Moynihan attributed this to the alarming rise in blacks not marrying and having illegitimate children. In 1963, illegitimate birth rate among blacks was 23.6%. Today it is 70%.
Moynihan predicated the breakdown of the black family among poor blacks would doom generations of blacks to the cycle of poverty. “The steady expansion of this welfare program, as of public assistance programs in general, can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States.” This is where poor blacks find themselves today in many cities across the country relegated to ghettos where generations of blacks have been on welfare. I’m reminded of reporter George Will’s column published shortly after Hurricane Katrina in which he noted that three and four generations of blacks living in New Orleans were relying on welfare and how this was not a sign of progress. This doesn’t represent good public policy for the millions of blacks enslaved by this pathology of poverty and crime or the government which serves them.
It would seem King’s dream for blacks as an ethnic group has been only partially realized. Blacks have physical freedoms yes, but economic freedom as a class is falling far short of the prosperity Martin Luther King envisioned for “little black boys and black girls.” Black political, spiritual and intellectual leaders along with our government must publically decry we are not satisfied with this reality and find ways and policies, as Moynihan boldly advised “to strengthen the Negro family so as to enable it to raise and support its members as do other families.”
The time is now!