RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Having been a journalist for several of the big anniversaries of the landmark civil rights march on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech,” I’m used to hearing the somber warnings of what hasn’t come true, how much work still needs to be done, what is wrong with our culture.
How the good Reverend would be shaking his head about everything from Trayvon Martin to Rodney King.
Can we please take a moment to look at what’s gone right, how much of King’s dream has come true?
Consider there were just five blacks in Congress when King spoke. Now there are 44.
As Colin Powell said this weekend, African-Americans have risen to the top of politics, the military, corporate America, the media. Not to mention the entertainment world, academia, literature, art, science and sports.
Some numbers from a recent Washington Post article:
The number of African-American elected officials has also risen dramatically since researchers started tracking it in 1970. Forty-three years ago there were 1,469 black elected officials nationwide, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; in 2011 there were roughly 10,500 such officials.
In education, blacks have also made tremendous strides.
In 1964, 25.7 percent of blacks age 25 and over had completed at least four years of high school; that percentage stood at 85 percent last year. During that same period the number of blacks with a high school diploma rose from 2.4 million to 20.3 million. Between 1964 and 2012 the percentage of blacks age 25 and over who completed at least four years of college increased from 3.9 percent to 21.2 percent, with the number of blacks boasting at least a bachelor’s degree rising from 365,000 to 5.1 million.
Locally, we can see how this former Capital of the Confederacy has given birth to the first elected black governor in the United States and a sweeping (and peaceful) change of power in city heavily populated by African-Americans that was, in King’s day, largely run and policed by whites.
The fact that the Trayvon Martin homicide was a national story for a full year – even when it wasn’t a clear case of a racially motivated white-on-black crime – shows this country is on high alert for anything resembling the widespread hate crime that haunted this country for generations.
Yes, we have much left to do. All of us.
But I believe in order to get where most of us want to be, we have to give thanks for the tremendous progress that has been made already.
If we don’t, we disrespect those who made that progress. I believe we threaten the chance for more progress by distorting the true picture.
Yes, I’m just a white guy talking. But I believe Dr. King would be proud of what we’ve done these past 50 years.
How about you?