Fifty years ago, a group of determined people led one of the largest rallies for human rights in US history. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it is necessary to reflect on the state of human rights, and ask ourselves: “Has Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream been fulfilled?”
It is certainly a loaded question that does not have a definitive answer. To say that we have not come far would be a disservice to the civil rights activists of the past 70 years, many of whom gave their lives to the attainment of freedom and equality. Their tireless work served as the catalyst for the passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which changed the lives of many Americans. The Civil Rights Movement allowed masses of diverse people, including African Americans, women, and immigrants to gain upward mobility in a way that was not possible beforehand. And of course, we cannot leave out the fact that on the 50th anniversary of the March, the nation’s first African American President, Barack Obama, is the one that addressed the crowd. In a world where many civil rights leaders never believed that they would see an African American President in their lifetimes, in some ways, we have exceeded the expectations of MLK’s dream.
Although we have exceeded MLK’s expectations in some ways, the US is still embarrassingly lagging behind in others in race relations. African Americans remain far more likely than whites to lack jobs, fail to graduate from high school, live below the poverty line, be arrested, and serve time in prison. Data compiled from the 2010 Census demonstrates that Americans are still segregated by race, particularly in cities. Finally, NPR’s Michele Norris put it best in an article she wrote for Time:
“America twice elected a President who is black. That’s one for the history books – but so too was the day that same President visited the White House briefing room to remind America that while the world rises up to meet him as a leader, as a black man he might have a hard time hailing a cab outside the White House.”
Indeed, America, as well as the rest of the international community, has yet to enter a post-racial world, or even a world where human rights are a top priority. For that reason, human rights defenders all over the world must continue the work toward realizing Dr. King’s dream. Although history has focused on Dr. King’s work towards ending racial discrimination, he also fought to end poverty, was a staunch critic of the Vietnam War, and was also an ardent supporter of the United Nations, demonstrating that there is no shortage of critical human rights work to be done, whether it is fighting racial discrimination in the US, or fighting for girl’s education in Pakistan. For these reasons, I implore readers to sit and reflect on the work of MLK and human rights activists around the globe, and ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to a more diverse, equal, and just world. We can and must reflect; as MLK noted in his powerful Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The text for “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” can be found at: goo.gl/XzwCv8
You can watch and read Dr. King’s famous speech at: goo.gl/tAVArA