In spite of all the civil-rights gains that were achieved over the years, in many cases, low-income people did not benefit and sometimes suffered from the successes that were achieved. The strategic interests of the middle class often proved to be inadvertently hostile to the strategic interests of poor blacks. In 1965, commentator Bill Raspberry wrote a column in the Washington Post with the headline, “Poor Negroes are not benefiting from the gains of the civil-rights movement.”
Today, this class division can be seen in demands for political, social, and economic advancement. The most pressing issues of poor and low-income blacks are ignored as their “spokesmen” use the issue of racism to anesthetize them in order to keep them from calling for action on the devastation facing their communities.
Now, 50 years after Raspberry issued his warning, columnist Courtland Milloy echoes some of the same sentiments in a recent column on this week’s March on Washington, writing: “Unlike the march in 1963, organized by socialist intellectuals A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the updated version featured politicians, media personalities, and even the public-relations presence of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Where would today’s civil-rights organizations be without their corporate sponsors?”
As Milloy notes, the common theme of the recent march was “fight to make America live up to her promise.” But what about the promises that black people should have made to themselves during the past 50 years, such as honoring the legacy of those who gave so much and received so little in return?
I found it disturbing that organizers of the recent march so easily invoked the name of Dr. King, who was a champion of peace and reconciliation, while they poured forth division and a lack of empathy for those suffering outside of their race. Dr. King believed in the importance of being morally consistent in your own affairs so that you could demand the same from others. He spoke out against the violence of the KKK, but he spoke with equal vigor against the retaliatory violence of the Black Panther Party. The leaders of the recent march continue to demand justice for Trayvon Martin and sympathy for his family. But they fail to demand justice for the fatal shooting of a white baby in a stroller during a robbery attempt in coastal Georgia or for the WWII veteran that survived the landing in Normandy, only to be beaten to death by two black teenagers as he was robbed of $50. There was no mention at the rally of the Australian student who was shot to death by a thrill-seeking trio of thugs.
If Dr. King were alive today, I think he may have done what I did 50 years ago — remain home and watch this recent parade on television, lamenting the lost opportunity to keep his dream alive.
— Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is the founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.