Thousands marched on Washington this past weekend in celebration of the 1963 March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech. Now 50 years later, are conditions better for Black people?

Yes and No.

Growing up in the South as well as reading everything I could get my hands on about racial conditions and racial relations in this country in my 60 plus years of experience as a Black man in America, I understand the differences in the years from 1963 to 2013 as compared to the years from 1863 through 1963.

Even though we have Trayvon Martin, it was a common thing pre-1963 for a White man to be able to kill a Black man and get away with it. It was a common thing for a White man to be able to rape a Black woman and get away with it. In most cases the incidents never came to court because the victim and family were afraid to try, or understood that nothing was going to happen.

It was common for Blacks to not be allowed to vote. It was common for Blacks to be dirt poor despite the fact they worked from sun up to sun set in the cotton or any other field they could find work in. It was common to sit in the back of the bus, in the balcony at the movies or theaters, if you were allowed in. It was common to attend one room school houses with one or two teachers teaching all grades, and all courses, with leftover books, while walking or being bused right past a modern White school with multiple teachers, classrooms and new books.

It was common to live with the belief that everything will be milk and honey once we get to heaven, because there couldn’t be no hell for Black people because we were already living in it right here in America.

It was common to have to go to the back door when you went to a White person’s house or business. It was common to walk into a store, if you were allowed in it, and have to wait until all the White folks were served before you were allowed to spend the little money you had.

It was common to not be allowed to hold most mid to high paying jobs such as police officer, fireman, doctors, lawyers, etc., because everybody knew Black people didn’t have the intelligence for these jobs. The top positions for Blacks were teachers and ministers. The real progressive cities may have accepted one Negro in one of the professional fields, but that was the limit. If a White man wanted the job, he got it. Blacks got what was left. Other than teachers I never met a Black professional until I moved to the North.

It was common for Blacks to be afraid when a group of Whites gathered near them. It was common for Black people to feel inferior. It was common for White people to feel superior.

On the positive side.

It was common for Black people no matter how poor to help out their fellow man and woman, never trying to take what belonged to others.

It was common for all adults to look out for children no matter who birthed them.

It was common to have teachers who cared about the child despite inferior books, inferior buildings, and children coming to school hungry, or wearing the same cloths every day.

It was common to many to not have a lunch as food ran out at home but someone in the school who had a little more than you being more than willing to share.

It was common for Black people under the threat of bodily injury, to be fired from the low paying jobs they had, or even death, to stand together against racism, for jobs, against the humiliation of having to ride on the back of the bus, or seeing your sister, mother, wife humiliated. Dr. King was the leader but he was not the initiator of the movement for freedom and equality. Black people throughout the South and later the country came together with the assistance of some Whites to get rid of what was commonly known as the way of life throughout the South.

What has changed in these 50 years? Almost none of these things are common today.

What should be our major goals for the next 50 years? Bridge the income gap between Blacks and Whites, which is growing further apart, rather than closer together.

Education, jobs, education, jobs.

First we must focus on education. Both traditional school education from kindergarten through trade school or college, as well as Black awareness and unity education. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or how good the jobs are if we aren’t helping each other. One of if not the biggest problem today is the lack of secondary education. We don’t care about each other. We don’t support each other; we have no respect for each other. One of our greatest fears today is not just Whites, it’s Blacks, because the vast majority of Black homicides are committed by Blacks.

We need more after school and weekend tutoring programs; we need more school systems to extend to a full year with maybe a month off. We need schools K through college or trade schools to work hand in hand with the employers, profit and non-profit. We need to make it harder for kids to drop out of schools, because they are too young to know what that means.

We need to make it easier for youth to get into college and to finish. There are thousands who can do the work, and are willing, but don’t have the money. We need more Pittsburgh Promises throughout this country, so that kids don’t have to drop out of school to work, or have huge debt to pay back once they graduate, which leads to bad credit if they don’t find a good job right away, which is generally the case with Blacks.

We need to make it commonplace to walk inside any building Downtown or suburbs throughout this country and see Black people working at all levels. We need to make it commonplace to see Black police officers, firemen, teachers, doctors, as well as at every construction site. But the only way this is going to happen is for Black folk to get off our collective butts and demand it. Nothing has been given to Black people in this country. It took us 200 years to end slavery. It took another 100 years to end the segregated Jim Crow system.

We have the same group of ultra conservatisms still blocking the doors trying their best to keep Blacks out. And we have a group of Blacks doing all they can to keep us out, by shooting, killing, and stealing. They are the so-called street brothers and sisters who are looking out for themselves and no one else.

We have to battle from both fronts if we are to move forward to make the dream, not only Dr. King’s, because he wasn’t speaking just about himself, but the dreams of all Black people, to simply have our share of the American pie.

(Ulish Carter is managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)


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