Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tucker: Civil rights era needs a successor: Class equality

Is the civil rights movement finished with Coretta's death? Yes and no...: "Coretta Scott King can rest easy. She's earned it. The civil rights movement, which she embodied in the decades after her husband's assassination, transformed not just the South but the nation. In paying tribute to her, we should take just a little time to consider how far we've come.

Because of the sacrifices she and her husband and so many others made, we have banished the laws and traditions of Jim Crow. An irresistible tide of social justice swept away the peculiar social customs that limited where black citizens might stand, sit, eat and sleep. And the widespread presumption of white superiority began to recede. White supremacists these days are nut cases. They used to be governors and senators.

Some who mourn the matriarch's death wonder whether her passing signals the end of the civil rights movement, as well. Actually, the movement passed quietly away decades before she did; it won the war and retired from the field.

That doesn't mean that racism is dead, America is color-blind or injustice out of fashion. Any measure of social health still shows that black Americans lag well behind whites --- in health and life span, in income and wealth, in educational attainment. By some indications, black Americans are worse off than at the height of the civil rights struggle: In 1968, only 31 percent of black children were born outside marriage. Now, about 70 percent of black children are born to unmarried women. Research suggests those children --- especially if their mothers are poor --- are more likely to struggle in school, to wander into drugs and delinquency and to end up poor themselves.

But the growing disparities between the two black Americas --- those who are well off and those who are left behind --- don't invalidate the movement. Instead, those discrepancies remind us of the struggle cut short by the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. --- the Poor People's Campaign, the crusade to end inequalities not just of color but also of class."

NOTE: One of the things that has struck me on reading the moving accounts of Mrs. King's life and work is how far we've fallen from her ideal. We've made such great strides as a nation, but have so far to go... witness the response to poor Katrina victims, the prevailing views (even among some African American leaders, including Bernice King) that gays and lesbians are not entitled to equal rights... etc. etc. This is a sad time for many reasons, not the least of which is the loss of a woman who worked for righteousness and justice for all. Rest in peace, Coretta.


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