Note also LBJ’s admission that the racist hostility in White America was primarily targeting Black Americans. He readily admits to Congress and the nation that after 100 years of being the center of a bullseye of national White hostility, from both public and private sectors of society, Black Americans have been significantly wounded as a population of people. Ironically, today there are White Americans who point to chronic conditions in Black America and blame personal decision-making as the key culprit without understanding the systemic forces that crippled those communities and continued to cause conditions that compel a series of daily dilemmas which have no positive outcomes.
Let’s also note the fact that MLK was alive and active in leading the Negro Revolution before … and after … the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Most Americans aren’t aware that this was yet another ineffective law, among a series of ineffective CRAs passed by Congress, dating back to the first in 1866.
Public policy changes did not translate into systemic changes of chronic conditions in Black communities. For example, MLK wrote about how the historic Supreme Court ruling in the 1954 Brown v Board case was nullified by the same Court in 1958 when it upheld Alabama’s Pupil Placement Law. Yet, today, teachers, scholars, politicians and journalists continue to point to 1954 as a watershed moment in desegregating schools, even as data show that schools today remain as segregated as they were when King was alive. How many Black children have been denied a quality education due to inept policies and systemic racism in the education sector? How many more will be in the next generation?
Despite all the rhetoric today about “saving democracy” from hostile forces seeking to acquire political power by any means necessary, few politicians are talking about the fact that all of America’s most vulnerable children are ubiquitously served by the worst quality schools in the world’s richest nation. This is not a new condition. It is how the public school system for Black children was established after the Civil War. Killing the dreams of Black children is how public education was initially designed. King fought to disrupt that policy and practice.
Yet, today, racial segregation and systemically poor-quality education for poor children of color is an ongoing crisis operating in plain sight. Saving Black children was the number one priority of the Negro Revolution, which professed three demands. Sadly, all three have been summarily denied, diminished and dismissed. And those who are considered the least in our society are still treated the worst.
In 1963, two months before King would deliver his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, he stood before 25,000 in Detroit’s Cobo Hall and delivered a scathing critique of America’s segregationist society. King described segregation as a “cancer in the body politic,” while LBJ would later ascribe the systemic condition due to a “racist virus” afflicting White America. Whether a cancer or virus, this disease is still with us. And the generational illness has metastasized into generational amnesia.
Sadly, too many of today’s generations of White Americans, including those in positions of power and influence who were young adults when King was alive, still lack awareness of the three demands of the Negro Revolution:
- End segregation in schools
- End discrimination in housing
- End discrimination in banking and access to capital
Today, none of these demands are reflected in national narratives, public policies or even in the ongoing protests and efforts for racial equity. Rather, the focus remains stuck on the importance of voting rights, which of course, is extremely important today … just as it was in King’s era. Voting is, of course, a vital means through which to achieve an end goal, but not the end goal itself.
We seem to have lost the central message in sounding an alarm to get out the vote. In so doing, we have succeeded in electing representatives whose messages span a spectrum of interests and issues yet still miss the point that was hammered home throughout the rise of the Negro Revolution. King ensured the messaging that would drive voters to the polls remained focused:
The result of American amnesia: Today, schools remain as segregated as in King’s day. White Americans own more than 90% of the nation’s wealth, represent 80% of all employer firms, 80% of teachers, politicians and journalists, and own more than 80% of the total housing stock in the nation. The homeownership gap between Black and White Americans, which was 26% in 1960 … is today more than 30%. Banks continue to receive federal fines in the millions every year; and since the Great Recession, banks have been fined $243 billion for ongoing discriminatory behavior. This is happening today. But what happened to the demands of the Negro Revolution? Did they die with King?