US struggles with race 50 years after King’s 'I have a dream'
Half a century ago today, Martin Luther King galvanised a national movement
More to do
The Pew Research Centre found that 49 per cent of Americans say “a lot more” needs to be done to achieve the dream. For Republicans, 35 per cent say “a lot” still needs to be done; the figure rises to 63 per cent for Democrats.
“Obviously the dream has not been realised. We have made a lot of progress but we are a long way from it,” said Dr E Faye Williams, national chairwoman of the National Congress of Black Women.
There are no African-American women in the Senate, she says, and she is keen that Obama will one day appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court. She hopes the 50th anniversary commemoration will “inspire us to do more and to do better” and that the president will speak today about what he could do by way of executive order to restore protective measures for minorities in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Republican governor of the southern state of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, the first Indian-American to serve as a governor in the US and potential future presidential candidate, wrote in an article on the Politico website this week that America still remained divided, despite the progress achieved since King’s famous speech on August 28th, 1963, and he called for an end to race divisions in America. “We still place far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness’, our heritage, ethnic background, skin colour etc,” he said.
“We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans and Native Americans, to name just a few. Here’s an idea: how about just ‘Americans’?”
Race dominates American politics, though it is rarely addressed in public. Even a black president has spoken only occasionally about his experiences of being African-American, most notably after the recent acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.
Congressional districts feeding the House of Representatives have been reshaped into homogenous political constituencies mirroring their racial make-up; the average Republican district has 50 per cent more white people, while the average Democratic district has twice as many non-white constituents. This has jammed up Congress.
“The unaddressed question in American politics is: to what degree is partisan gridlock driven, underneath, by racial and ethnic division?” said the Pulitzer-prize winning author Taylor Branch, best known for his landmark history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years.
“I’d give anything to sit for a while and ask President Obama what he thinks, on issue after issue where there is partisan gridlock, how much of that is racially driven.”
The focus today will be on Obama and what he might say on a platform that 50 years ago Martin Luther King used to galvanise a movement.