(c) 2016 Brenda Grantland, for Truth And Justice Blog
republished with permission of the author
As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, this is a good time to think about how far African Americans have come since King lost his life lifting them out of oppression – and how much farther they still have to go before they will be treated equally.
The biggest step forward of course is that African-Americans now hold public offices around the country. As the first African-American president is finishing out his second term, it is clear that racial inequality is still a fact of life. Under Obama’s leadership there has been some progress – on health care, primarily – despite all the opposition. Certainly racial attitudes have changed since the days of MLK, with the younger generation generally coming up with racially neutral attitudes due to desegregation – but in parts of the country racism is still rampant. Clearly there much is more to be done.
We’ve learned the hard way that electing or appointing African-Americans to public offices is not necessarily enough to ensure further progress in advancing the rights of minorities. A surprising number of African-American office holders are working against civil rights - for example Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas helped eviscerate the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 decision Shelby v. Holder.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed in response to the civil rights movement, and Rev. Martin Luther King’s marches demanding that blacks have protection of their right to vote, which had been established in the 15th Amendment passed in 1869, but was being whittled away and limited by Jim Crow laws such as literacy tests and poll taxes, and other legislation passed by various states (primarily in the South) aimed at keeping blacks from voting despite the 15th Amendment.
When the Supreme Court decision Shelby v. Holder eviscerated the requirement that jurisdictions with a past history of voting discrimination get pre-approval of the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws, several Southern states immediately began enacting potentially discriminatory laws such as voter ID laws, requiring voters to have photo IDs with them to vote. Those who are too poor to own cars often don’t have a valid photo ID. With the DMV office being the primary place to get a photo ID, Alabama officials closed the DMV offices in rural counties. Amid protests that this action impedes poor blacks from obtaining the voter IDs they need, the authorities relented and reopened those DMV offices -- but only one day per month.
Who is going to carry the torch for racial equality now? Certainly not any of the Republicans. Their campaign strategy is based on stirring up racial prejudice. The pending federal bill to restore the Voting Rights Act’s protections has stalled out in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Black Lives matter to Bernie
It may seem surprising that a white grandfather from a vanilla-white state like Vermont is a great champion of racial equality and the issues most affecting blacks, but it’s true.
Bernie was a student activist during the civil rights movement, active in the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was arrested in 1962 for protesting segregation in Chicago public schools. The police considered him an outside agitator because of the flyers he put out complaining about police brutality. Bernie marched in the March on Washington in 1963, and was in the audience listening when Martin Luther King made his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.
Bernie didn’t just talk the talk, he continued to march the march for civil rights throughout his career in the House of Representatives (16 years) and the U.S. Senate (since 2006). Bernie's long record of introducing and supporting legislation favoring racial equality and voting against bills that would disproportionately burden people of color earned him a 97% approval rating from the NAACP and 93% from the ACLU.
His advocacy for issues that affect people of color include criminal justice reform, ending laws that lead to mass incarceration of blacks, dealing with police brutality and killings of blacks, increased education opportunities, and addressing income inequality, among other issues. See his plan on racial justice and listen to his July 2015 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Martin Luther King would have been “feeling the Bern” if he were alive today
When King was assassinated in 1968 he was waging a radical campaign against economic inequality and the Vietnam War -- very much like Bernie Sanders’ lifelong opposition to income inequality and the perpetual war in the Middle East.
In fact, some of King’s words sound like something out of Bernie Sanders’ speeches. In a 1952 letter to his future wife, Coretta Scott, Martin Luther King wrote:
“I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human system it fail victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.”
In 1966 he told the Southern Christian Leadership Conference:
“there must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. Call it what you may, call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”
So if African-Americans and other minorities heed the words of Martin Luther King, and judge Bernie Sanders not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, they will recognize that Bernie is a brother, working hard in the struggle that Martin Luther King began, to provide equality for African Americans.