This weekend offers a measuring rod for the U.S. civil rights movement - a chance to see how far the nation has come and how far it still has to go.
Some would claim that the civil rights struggle is effectively over, that it has achieved its goals. Certainly, most of the legal, public, political, and educational barriers have generally fallen.But few would assert that blacks as a group have achieved economic or social equality. Poverty, ghetto life, the drug culture, crime, unemployment, and family and education handicaps tend to fall more heavily on blacks than whites.
When Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C., 25 years ago, the message was not about "rights" as such, but about brotherhood and a world where skin color did not matter.
Since then, blacks have made gains. They are better represented in schools, politics, business firms, and some neighborhoods. High school graduation and life expectancy are up, and the number of blacks holding political office has grown from less than 500 to more than 6,000. Overt discrimination has mostly vanished as language and accepted social acts have changed to avoid giving offense. A black was a serious contender for the U.S. presidency this year.
But the jobless rate for blacks is 10 percent, double that of whites. Among teenage males it is worse. While the percentage of blacks living in poverty has dropped from 51 percent to 31 percent, it remains triple that of whites. Median income of whites no longer is double that of blacks, but the actual dollar gap - about $11,000 - hasn't changed in 25 years. Blatant discrimination is no longer evident, yet it still exists in subtle ways that affect everything from jobs to housing to social life.
The progress made during the past quarter of a century stands as evidence of America's honorable intentions and of its capacity to keep improving in terms of social justice for all its citizens.