By Ernie Brown
If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in April 1968, were alive today, he would celebrate his 79th birthday on Jan. 15.
If he would have survived to see the 21st century, I wonder if he would be pleased with what has transpired in the black community.
So, I’m going to speculate as to what the pivotal figure of the civil rights movement in the 1960s would have liked, and disliked, about what has happened to the descendants of African slaves in America since 1968.
I believe King would have been pleased with the amount of black faces seen on national television. In his lifetime, there were just a few. Now, celebrities such as Al Roker and Oprah Winfrey are seen daily and admired by millions.
I believe King would have enjoyed seeing young black men earning millions of dollars in the world of professional sports. He would have bristled, however, at the fact that limited opportunities still exist for blacks to own, operate and coach professional teams, particularly in baseball and football.
I believe Dr. King would have been appalled at some of the economic problems that still plague black Americans. According to the 2003 U.S. Census report, the median white income was $45,572, while the median for blacks was $29,689. And although 10.5 percent of whites in America were statistically in poverty, the percentage of blacks in poverty was 24.4 percent. The unemployment rate of black teens is more than double that of white teens.
Despite a growing black middle class over the last 40 years, the Web site blackvoices.com points out that blacks still tend to lag in business development, a major source of wealth, as opposed to mere income. The Web site article by Norman Kelley also points out that blacks spend $600 billion to $700 billion annually as consumers, but take in only $91 billion annually in sales receipts as producers of products and services.
King was a strong advocate for integration. He believed America would be a stronger and better country if it embraced, not segregated, all its people of color. The question of whether integration should have been the primary goal for blacks will long be debated. But certainly King would have been pleased there are more black professionals than ever before and more opportunities for blacks to become successful in all professions.
He probably would have ambivalent feelings for the advances in the recording industry for black folks.
On the one hand, he would have enjoyed seeing young blacks make their mark in rap and hip-hop music. I believe, however, that as a preacher of the Gospel, he strongly would have spoken out about the lyrics advocating violence, the extensive use of profanity and the degradation of black women.
I believe he would have joined actor, community activist and educator Bill Cosby in chastising black America for not taking the time to properly educate our children, misplacing our priorities, and having a general disregard for the core values of hard work, sacrifice, accountability and responsibility that enabled previous generations of black people to overcome slavery and racist Jim Crow laws.
He certainly would have challenged black men to step up and take on the responsibility of raising their children. He also would have decried the insanity of black-on-black crime.
I believe King would have been pleased with the advances blacks have made in the political arena. But I think he would have been disappointed, like Kelley points out in his Web column, “That the black political agenda over the last four decades of trying to influence the machinery of the federal government has failed.”
I think King would conclude that black America has come a long way, but still has a long way to go. Many of the problems that plague the black community must be solved by black folks. The way to honor his legacy is to put forth a daily effort to serve one another and live a life that is committed to helping instead of hurting.