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Same old, same old, 50 years later

Herb Boyd | , Elinor Tatum | 6/20/2013, 4:11 p.m. | Updated on 6/25/2013, 4:11 p.m.

One of the most important revelations Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had even before he delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech—and what he deemed a shortcoming of the Civil Rights Movement—was the failure to give economics a more pivotal role in the struggle for freedom and justice.

The strategy of boycotting businesses that discriminated against African-Americans, which, in part, applied Adam Clayton Powell’s mantra of “Don’t buy where you can’t work,” was gradually adopted by the early ‘60s, and five years after his great speech, it became more evident, arriving at perhaps its signal moment during the Poor People’s Campaign.

“We are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses,” King announced in his march on the nation’s capital in 1968. “We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect...We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago.”

Well, 50 years later, Black America is still waiting for that and other promises to be fulfilled.

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) titled “Unfinished Business of the 1963 March on Washington” underscores five decades of disappointment for Black Americans and the nation’s poor and how the quest for jobs and freedom are unaccomplished goals.

The report notes that “while the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led to legislative victories—including mandating equal access to public accommodations, barring racial discrimination in employment and protecting Blacks’ voting rights—the hard economic tasks of the march remain a distant dream.

“The remaining goals of the march,” the report continues, “include the demand for decent housing, adequate and integrated education, full employment and a national minimum wage that can realistically lift a family out of poverty—all of which are crucial to transforming the life opportunities of African-Americans and people of all races and ethnicities.”

When King began to speak out against the war in Vietnam and the extent to which millions of dollars were being spent to conduct an “unjust war” at the expense of the impoverished masses, he boldly emphasized the movement’s economic thrust. His later commitment to the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., was another step toward bringing about economic parity, and the subsequent Poor People’s Campaign was his final effort to deal with some of the things highlighted in the EPI’s report.

“Large numbers of African-Americans still lack decent and safe housing. They still lack adequate and integrated education, full employment and a guaranteed living wage, all of which are essential to Blacks’ full social and economic inclusion in American society,” wrote Algernon Austin, the report’s author.

None of these inadequacies are alien to our editorial space. Separately and together, we’ve hammered away at these inequities, and we certainly commend the report, which merely makes empirically true what many in our community have known for years and years.

As our readers will attest, it is not news to us that the Black poverty rate remains nearly three times higher than the white poverty rate. Many of us know firsthand that far too many of our children are barely surviving in neighborhoods, bereft of decent schools and where the opportunities to get out of the economic muck is increasingly difficult, if not impossible.