Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Disparities still loom large 50 years after iconic march

This guest editorial came from the Kingsport Times-News. Editor’s note: Letters published as guest editorials may not necessarily reflect the opinion of the newspaper. The following is from Linda Kincaid of Kingsport.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the signature movements of American history.

African Americans were instrumental in making mass marches on Washington a potent and lasting tradition in 20th century American political culture. Black Americans legitimized the Washington Mall as the people’s property, as well as underscored the importance of economic justice to the freedom struggle.

The organizers were unified in their demands for a passage of meaningful civil rights laws. They rallied the crowd of over 250,000 with speeches. There was no evidence of civil disorder despite the fact President Kennedy sent in 4,000 troops and paratroopers.

There were two noticeable speeches that day. One was given by John Lewis, now representing Georgia in the U.S. House and formerly the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader. His speech called for a revolution.

The second was delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The speech was initially restrained. Dr. King, sensing the crowd’s restlessness, introduced the dream motif, intermingling lines from earlier speeches: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

He finished on a note of optimism and hope, for the which the speech is known: “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village, from every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.”

Despite the passing of civil rights legislation in l964 and l965, economic and social conditions remained unchanged for most African Americans. Assimilation into mainstream society has been costly. African Americans have suffered through indignities and atrocities from the 19th century through nearly three generations of the 20th century.

On the positive, for 50 years African Americans have enjoyed some freedoms due to laws being passed that have unlocked the doors of segregation. However, on the negative, the social and economic fabric hasn’t changed much in 50 years for the average African American.

The disparities loom large: for some, secondary and higher education needs remain unattainable; for some, unemployment remains high; for some, homeownership is a mirage; for some, voter rights are being denied; for some, there are high rates of incarceration and unlawful arrest; and for some, entrepreneurship is elusive.

Disparities remain but I believe there are initiatives that need to be addressed at the national and local levels.

Here are some possibilities to consider for implementation to ensure economic justice and freedom: offer study groups-tutoring to improve ACT scores; identify-notify potential participants of the pending changes to GED requirements before Dec 2013; encourage-identify individuals eligible for manufacturing-technology classes; teach sensitivity classes to local law enforcement officers; encourage judges to offer sentences of mandatory treatment-counseling for first time-low crime alcohol and drug offenders; and encourage-solicit fair-minded individuals to run for public offices.