Today, as Americans celebrate the national holiday marking the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., they should reflect on progress made during the civil rights movement that King led and the work yet to be done.
People certainly have in Kansas City during a week of events featuring music, awards and speeches on the theme: “50 years — the Legacy Continues.”
Programs were right to highlight the progress America has made, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But no one should think that the country has entered a post-racial era with the election and re-election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president.
Repeated studies during the civil rights movement and after King’s assassination at age 39 in 1968 have reported the persistence of racism and discrimination limiting the progress of African Americans.
Racial disparities persist in prenatal care, housing, kindergarten through 12th-grade education, college access, job opportunities, income, wealth, health care and life expectancy.
In addition, racial profiling continues unchecked for African Americans and Latinos despite repeated reports showing that minorities are more likely to be stopped and searched than are white people.
The laws in America have changed, and that’s progress, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young told an audience last week at Burns & McDonnell in Kansas City. The civil rights movement made people more sensitive to women’s rights, the rights of other minority groups, and those of gays and lesbians.
But the customs in this country haven’t kept up with the law, said Young, a former mayor of Atlanta and congressman who marched with King.
“We’re still a country at war with itself,” Julian Bond, another close associate of King said last week in Kansas City. “We have work to do.”
Indeed. Just as many Americans will use this national holiday to volunteer and serve their neighbors and community, members of Congress and the Obama administration should borrow a page from King and the civil rights movement to forge new coalitions to work together to end racism, unify the population and make our country stronger.
It is the best way to continue King’s legacy for the next 50 years.