MIAMI, Florida – It’s a sense of pride for the African-American community that one of the first holidays in 2020 commemorates the birthday of Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 20.
The historical milestone and impact of Dr. King’s birthday and life achievements may not resonate as much to the younger generation as it in the 1950s and 1960s when he fearlessly stood up to the establishment to fulfill his dream of securing equal rights and justice among America’s diverse races. As his birthday is again commemorated, Dr. King may best be remembered for his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for jobs and freedom in 1963.
The visionary leader’s speech at the height of the Civil Rights Movement highlighting his vision for racial equality in America inspired millions from all races.
It’s ironic that after all the optimism the speech created then, and the resulting success King had in the passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Act in 1965, King’s dream of a racially united nation remains elusive.
Most likely, if Dr. King were around today, he would have felt he failed in his ambitions for an America where the races live and work together in peace.
When he made the memorable speech, the racial divide in America was very stark, especially in the Southern states, including Florida. African-Americans struggled to be recognized, for access to restaurants and movie theaters, much less attend schools or colleges that previously accepted only white students.
Believing in the creed stated in the American constitution that “all men are created equal” it was King’s quest that these words be lived, and real racial and economic freedom and equality would be achieved in America.
Fifty-seven later, it would be disingenuous to say that blacks in America have not made significant social and economic progress. There are more liberties that this race currently enjoy that couldn’t even be contemplated in1963. However, there are still too many overt and covert forces that continue to keep the black and white races apart. Moreover, the gulf between some white and black communities has widened.
On reflection, black America misread the significance of 2008 with the election of America’s first black president. Most blacks, in their elation, saw this as a manifestation of King’s dream with a coalition of races voting Barack Obama into office.
However, this historical election unveiled the camouflage that covered racism in America, exposing the sad truth that a large percentage of Americans were aggressively opposed to racial equality. Especially, it disclosed that the majority of the white race resisted a president who emerged from a once ostracized minority race.
After Obama’s election, more evidence of America’s deep racism was revealed. This ranged from the disrespect for him as president and attempts to block his presidential agenda; attempts to block the registration of black voters and obstacles placed to those who already have the right to vote; the spread of low-income black communities characterized by inadequate housing and high unemployment; the deterioration in the criminal justice system reflected in continued imbalance between the incarceration of black youth compared to white youth; and, most disconcerting, the decline in the relationships between some white law enforcement officers and black residents in several communities.
Sadly, instead of focusing on building bridges to improve relationships between the races, some politicians are currently targeting support from black Americans solely for political gain. However, by doing this, these politicians may not even be aware they have increased the power of black voters.
It’s a fact that in several voting districts in America, and definitely in the presidential elections, candidates will be unlikely to succeed in their election bid without the support of the black vote. In South Florida, black voters, mostly concentrated in Broward and Palm Beach counties, are one of the most important voting blocs nationally.
As candidates compete for the black vote, it’s the perfect opportunity for voters to ensure the candidates are focused on issues crucial to their economic and social well-being and not just selling empty promises.
This is the reason why it’s important for blacks to continue to register to vote and vote heavily in this year’s elections. The black vote is more than a means of electing officials who they believe will support them. It is definitely a potential path to racial equality.
The voting rights Dr. King succeeded in obtaining in 1965 may be the link to the racial equality he envisioned in his famous speech. The more influential the black vote becomes, the more elected officials should begin focusing on meeting demands from the black community, ensuring the policies that are implemented are more equitable across the different races.
Hopefully, November 2020 will reflect the beginning of this equity.