Connecting the past with the president

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JULIANNE MALVEAUX

(NNPA)—One hundred and fifty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a flawed document that freed enslaved people in Confederate areas that he did not control. At the same time, it was a progressive document because it initiated discussion about the “freedom” Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments.
One hundred years later, in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. riveted the nation with his “I Have A Dream” speech during the Aug. 28 March on Washington. Many will remember that he said, “I have a dream that one day people will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Somehow people forget that in the same speech he said, “We have come to the nation’s capital to cash a check that has been marked insufficient funds.” If people said “cash the check” as often as they said “I have a dream,” we’d move more quickly forward in closing the economic gaps that African-American people experience.
We’ve been doing this 50-year thing for the past couple years, and we’ll be doing it for another few. The “Greensboro Four” North Carolina A&T State University Students (with the help of Bennett College students, who are often ignored) sat in at Woolworth counter on Feb. 1, 1960. The March on Washington happened 50 years ago. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and beyond that the 60s will resonate for the next few years with commemorations and anniversaries.
These celebrations are important historical moments, but who remembers? The median age of the population in the United States is about 37 years old. Many of these folks remember the civil rights moment through twice and thrice told tales. Those who are under the median age see the civil rights movement as something like a fable, something they heard about, but doesn’t really matter to them. Many of these young people see themselves as “post-racial.” They hang out with their peers, race notwithstanding. They have never experienced discrimination. Even when they experience it, they are slow to embrace it. They are post-racial, whatever that means.

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