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The Status of the Dream

by Stephan Thernstrom & Abigail Thernstrom

Racial integration 50 years after MLK’s speech

Black voices of gloom are a staple in reporting on race. “Dreams unfulfilled” is how the Washington Post describes the racial landscape as the nation approaches the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s electrifying address delivered from the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. The reporter found blacks who had witnessed the speech half a century ago. “I had hoped when I was a young man that we’d see a lot of progress by now,” said Donald Cash, a D.C. resident who is now 68. “But I think we’re going backwards,” he declared.

There will be commemorative weeklong events, as there should be. A march on Saturday, August 31, is billed as “National Action to Reclaim the Dream.” In retrospect, was Dr. King’s dream just wishful thinking, bound to disappoint? “We cannot walk alone,” he said. The destiny of blacks and whites is inextricably intertwined. But how to walk together? Sobering numbers from a recent Pew Research Center survey suggest an enduring racial chasm. Seventy percent of blacks believe they are treated less fairly than whites in dealings with the police. Almost as many (68 percent) distrust courts. Fifty-four percent perceive inequality in places of work, and 51 percent in the public schools. Forty-eight percent doubt the fairness of the electoral system, and 44 percent think the stores and restaurants they patronize are unfair to them because of their race.

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