by James H. Buford
As the National Urban League celebrates its 100th anniversary as a civil rights and social services organization, it is a good time for us to look back and reflect upon the accomplishments, challenges and struggles which formed the Civil Rights Movement.
It was in 1910 that Mrs. Ruth Standish Baldwin and George Edmund Haynes, a Caucasian female and an African-American male, founded the National Urban League to help reduce discrimination in urban areas.
Over the past 100 years, there have been accomplishments that the movement can be proud of, such as the elimination of Jim Crow, voting rights, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and the Barack Obama presidency.
Despite the triumphs, there are still many trials that still plague our minority communities.
According to the National Urban League’s 2010 State of Black America, the equality index stands at 71.8 percent for African-Americans, 75.5 percent for Hispanics compared to 100 percent for White Americans. This means that in the areas of economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement, inequality still exists in this nation.
Economics and social justice are two areas in which the largest inequalities exist: The average Black household earns $34,218, compared to $37,913 for Hispanics and $55,530 for Whites.
A recent study by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy revealed that the African-American and White wealth gap has increased from $20,000 in 1974 to $95,000 in 2007. The study also showed that even African-Americans with good educations and well-paying jobs could not achieve the wealth of their White peers.
The economic crisis has hurt everyone with the Black unemployment rate rising to 14.8 percent and the White jobless rate rising to 8.5 percent in 2009. In addition, Blacks and Hispanics are three times more likely than Whites to live below the poverty line and less than 50 percent are homeowners compared to 75 percent of Whites.
On the social justice frontier: Blacks are six times more likely and Hispanics are three times more likely to be imprisoned than Whites.
Although we have elected an African-American president, our problems are far from over in Black and Brown America. To address the situation, the National Urban League recommend a jobs initiative that targets urban communities where the unemployment rates are the highest. Urban areas also tend to be the economic engines of our nation’s economy.
Additionally, this plan seeks to fund direct job creation, expand the Small Business Administration’s Community Express Loan Program, create green empowerment zones in areas which have unemployment rates that are higher than the state average, expand the hiring of housing counselors, expand the Youth Summer Jobs Program and create 100 Urban Jobs Academies to employ and train the chronically unemployed.
Although the causes of these inequalities can be personal as well as systemic, these daunting figures highlight the need for a continued Civil Rights Movement to ensure equality and fair treatment among all people in the United States.
It is only through the collective efforts of all residents, civic and community leaders that we will be able to embrace fairness and equality for our future growth.
(James H. Buford is president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.)