Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. waves to onlookers while leading the 125,000 strong 'Walk to Freedom' on Woodward Avenue in Detroit in 1963. (Photo: Tony Spina / Detroit Free Press)

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. waves to onlookers while leading the 125,000 strong 'Walk to Freedom' on Woodward Avenue in Detroit in 1963. (Photo: Tony Spina / Detroit Free Press)

Has America Come Any Closer to MLK's Dream?

Dr. King would be marching with those who seek to make it easier to vote. He would be appalled by George Floyd’s murder, but not surprised.

Jesse Jackson

 by Chicago Sun-Times

Last weekend marked the 53d anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. Over half a century. Has America come any closer to his dream?

He would be pleased at some of our progress. Segregation is no longer the law of the land. The Voting Rights Act helped open doors. Dr. King would be pleased that a majority of Americans joined to elect and re-elect an African American president. Georgians just elected a black minister from Dr. King’s own historic church to the U.S. Senate. There are now 60 African American members of Congress, 54 Latino members, 20 Asian American or Pacific Islander Americans and 5 native Americans.

Yet the reconstruction has brought reaction. By a 5-4 decision, right-wing judges on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, even after overwhelming majorities of both parties voted to reauthorize it. Now across the country, Republicans, fearful of the growing involvement of minorities and the young, are seeking to impose restrictions that make voting more difficult.

We’ve come a long way, yet we still have so far to go.

Dr. King would be marching with those who seek to make it easier to register and to vote. He’d be urging the Senate to pass S1, the For the People election reform bill that would go far to limit voter suppression, gerrymandering and counter the role of secret big money in politics. He surely would be delighted that African American business leaders of major corporations and banks have joined in urging the corporate community to speak out against efforts to suppress the vote.

George Floyd’s murder would appall but not surprise Dr. King. The shameful mass incarceration of African Americans and the structural racial inequities of our criminal justice system demand reform. Again, Dr. King would be marching with the Black Lives Matter movement and would be encouraged by the multiracial outpouring of largely peaceful, nonviolent protests demanding reform.

Economic justice was the third movement of Dr. King’s civil rights symphony—and the most incomplete. The pandemic has once more stripped the veil off of America’s structural racial inequalities. African Americans and Latinos were the most likely to be infected, the most likely to lack health care, the most likely to be frontline workers, the least likely to be able to work from home.

When the economy shut down, African Americans and Latinos suffered the largest loss of jobs, and the greatest collapse of incomes. We are also vulnerable to the most evictions and foreclosures. The schools our children attend are the least likely to have adequate ventilation or space for social distancing.

The level of economic violence suffered daily by poor and low-income families is immoral and unnecessary. Millions of Americans still lack the basic right to adequate health care. Dr. King’s legacy has helped to inspire a new Poor People’s Campaign, giving voice to the 140 million low income and impoverished Americans who struggle to survive.

Dr. King protested as the War on Poverty was defeated in the jungles of Vietnam. He understood that a bloated military budget, constant interventions across the world, the arms race that threatened all humanity sapped the resources, energy and attention needed to make America better.

Today, the military budget is even higher—in comparable dollars—than it was at the height of the Cold War. The U.S. maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. We fight endless wars on the other side of the world. And worse, we seem headed into a new Cold War, this time with both Russia and China, and have launched a trillion-dollar program to build a new generation of nuclear weapons that we don’t need and cannot use.

Our priorities remain distorted. There were no Republican votes for Biden’s Rescue Plan to deal with the pandemic and the economic collapse. Many predict that there will be no Republican votes for Biden’s American Jobs Plan to rebuild and modernize our infrastructure and begin to deal with the existential threat of catastrophic climate change. Yet there will be bipartisan support for a military budget far beyond our security needs.

Over half a century. We’ve come a long way, yet we still have so far to go. Hope is provided by a new generation—more diverse, more engaged, better educated, and increasingly on the march.

They are bringing new energy and new numbers to the struggle for justice and peace. About that, Dr. King surely would be pleased.


© 2021 Chicago Sun-Times
Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson is an African-American civil rights activist and Baptist minister. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as shadow senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. He was the founder of both entities that merged to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Big Cheers as Biden Vows to Pardon All Federal 'Simple Marijuana Possession' Convictions

"This is what pressure and advocacy look like," said anti-poverty activist Joe Sanberg. "This must be the first of many steps to ending our decadeslong failed policies on marijuana."

Brett Wilkins ·


At Least 66 Clinics in 15 States Have Ended Abortion Care Post-Dobbs

Over a third of those facilities have fully closed, meaning patients also lost "access to contraceptive care, STI testing and treatment, and pregnancy care," said a Guttmacher Institute researcher.

Jessica Corbett ·


US Jobless Claims Jump as Fed Shoves Economy to 'Precipice of Global Recession'

One expert called on Powell "to think twice before plunging our economy into a wholly avoidable recession and completely undoing one of the strongest job recoveries on record."

Jake Johnson ·


'Flying Blind': Analysis Shows World's Biggest Polluters Hide Climate-Related Financial Risks

"When companies don't take climate-related matters into account, their financial statements may include overstated assets, understated liabilities, and overstated profits," said one expert at analysis firm Carbon Tracker.

Julia Conley ·


After Dumping $15 Billion Into Fossil Fuels, World Bank Urged to Stop 'Investing in Climate Disaster'

"If the World Bank wants to be a part of the solution rather than the problem, it needs to stop funding fossil fuels and unlock billions in order to support the transition to renewable energy across the globe and end poverty and inequality," said one campaigner.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo