Posted by: Daniel Cisek, Deputy Press Attaché
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, espousing non-violent resistance to social injustice caught the attention of the nation with the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” In 1964 and 1965, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which finally gave full legal equality to African Americans throughout the United States. Tragically, King was murdered in 1968 in Memphis by a white man who opposed his efforts to bring equality to African-Americans.
Legal equality didn’t bring full social or economic equality. Since the 1960s, there has
been slow progress as more African-Americans enter the middle class, become better educated, and achieve prominent careers in all areas of society. In recent years, more young Americans have identified themselves as multiracial or mixed-race on census forms, indicating a softening of the rigid categories of black and white that had long defined American society. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 as the first African-American president was a major milestone, demonstrating that the country’s mindset had profoundly changed. However, major struggles remain for many in the African-American community, who suffer from significantly higher rates of unemployment and poverty compared to whites. Moreover, some urban communities face entrenched cycles of poverty, drug use, and violence.
Black History month is a time to examine this long and mixed story in all of its complexity. It’s the tale of a resourceful and spiritually strong people who have been striving for hundreds of years for equality, and to realize the goal set forth by Abraham Lincoln, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”