3 December 2002

Forgotten Teachings of Martin Luther King

This morning, on the KFYI Barry Young show, the host postulated that anyone defending Affirmative Action policies could only put forth "transparent" arguments that were nothing but examples of reverse racism. Recently, the right wing think tanks and their scions have propagated the notion that Martin Luther King would be aghast over such programs like Affirmative Action or "racial quotas" as detractors like to frame them. But, as is plainly evident to anyone who has read the speeches and writings of Dr. King, that assertion is just pure nonsense.

Here are some excerpts and quotes from Dr. King [1] on the matter:

Reporter: "Do you feel it's fair to request a multi-billion dollar program of preferential treatment for the Negro, or any other minority?"

Dr. King: "I do indeed...Within common law, we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs. ... America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans...They could negotiate loans from banks to launch businesses. They could receive special points to place them ahead in competition for civil service jobs...There was no appreciable resentment of the preferential treatment being given to the special group." -- (Interview,1965, p.367)

"A section of the white population, perceiving Negro pressure for change, misconstrues it as a demand for privileges...The ensuing white backlash intimidates government officials who are already too timorous." -- "Negroes Are Not Moving Too Fast" (p.177)

"Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic." -- 1964, Why We Can't Wait.

"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro..." quoted by Stephen B.Oates, Let The Trumpet Sound.

"Anatole France once said: 'The law in its majestic equality forbids all men to sleep under benches -- the rich as well as the poor...France's sardonic jest expresses a bitter truth. Despite new laws, little has changed...The Negro is still the poorest American -- walled in by color and poverty. The law pronounces him equal -- abstractly -- but his conditions of life are still far from equal." -- "Negroes Are Not Moving Too Fast", 1964 (p. 176-177).

"Although the terms desegregation and integration are used interchangeably, there is a great deal of difference between the two...Desegregation simply removes legal and social prohibitions. Integration is creative...more profound and far reaching than desegregation...

" the welcome participation of Negroes into the total range of human activities...Desegregation is not enough; integration alone is consonant with our national purpose." -- "Ethical Demands for Integration" ,1963, (p.118).

"Something positive must be done... In 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful. And the irony of it all is that at the same time the nation failed to do anything for the black man -- through an act of Congress it was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and Midwest -- which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor...Not only that, it provided agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every year not to farm.

"And these are so often the very people who tell Negroes that they must lift themselves by their own bootstraps...

"We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice." -- "Remaining Awake," 1968 (271).

"White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change of the status quo...This is a multi-racial nation where all groups are dependent on each other...There is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity." -- Where Do We go From Here, 1967 (588-)

"The problem of race remains America's greatest moral dilemma. When one considers the impact it has upon the nation, its resolution might well determine our destiny. ..The price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro is the price of its own destruction." -- "Ethical Demands of Integration," 1963 (p.117).

Is racial injustice no longer an issue? Has the problem been rectified and not relevant in today's United States of America? Not according to these indicators [2]:

Last month a national study found drastic disparities in the way white and minority suspects were treated in the criminal justice system when both were charged with comparable crimes. For example, among young people who have not been sent to a juvenile prison before, blacks are more than six times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison. The study found that among young people without a record charged with violent crime, black teenagers are nine times more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison. For drug offenses, black youths are 48 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison, according to the study. Researchers for "And Justice For Some" also found that while African-American youth are just 15 percent of the population under 18, they account for 40 percent of the youths sent to adult courts and 58 percent of the youths sent to adult prison. Written under the auspices of the Youth Law Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group, the study was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and six of the nation's leading foundations, including the Rockefeller, Ford and MacArthur Foundations as well as the Center on Crime, Communities and Culture of George Soros's Open Society Institute

OK, those statistics are indicting only of the criminal justice system, not the economic system which effects all Americans on a day-to-day basis. So, what is the deal there? Gains have been made, but still, the unemployment rate for black people is double what it is for white people and the ratio of black-to-white median income is 64% [3]. Those numbers show that there's still a bit of economic disparity, though things have improved since the Civil Rights era.