The Fight for Equal Rights Continues
"I have a dream that one day our nation will. . .live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."
With those words, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. summed up what many black Americans were hoping for in 1963: equality. Dr. King was speaking at the March on Washington. More than 300,000 marched in our nation's capital that day to peacefully protest for racial equality.
"You just saw thousands and thousands of people — black and white, young people and old people, men and women, people from all over the country," said John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman from Georgia. In 1963, Lewis worked with Dr. King and President John Kennedy to organize the March on Washington. "It was a day that I will never forget."
Last August, people marched again in Washington, D.C. They were continuing the peaceful protest for racial equality by celebrating the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington. Though the crowd was not nearly as large as the first march, the message was clear; equality between blacks and whites is still an important issue in America.
Since the 1950s, the U.S. government has passed many laws designed to ensure equality between blacks and whites. Businesses cannot refuse to hire people because of their race. Similarly, businesses cannot use race as a reason to refuse service to people. African-Americans and white Americans must be allowed to attend the same schools. The right to vote, which had been denied to many black Americans into the 1960s, cannot be denied based on race. The U.S. government even passed a law to create a holiday to honor Dr. King. It was the first nationwide holiday honoring an African-American leader.
Even with these laws, there is still racial inequality in the U.S. Unemployment is higher among black workers than whites. Though there are more African-Americans in high-level jobs than there used to be, they are still far outnumbered by whites. Racial violence still happens, though not as frequently as it did 30 or 40 years ago.
ONE MAN'S STORY
Paul Delaney's life is one illustration of how things have changed for African Americans. When he was growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1950s, Delaney wanted to attend the University of Alabama. But he could not simply because he was black. The university, like many colleges in the South at that time, did not accept black students. Now Delaney is the chairman of the journalism school at the University of Alabama.
Delaney says he sees other changes, too. When he was a young man, blacks and whites ate at different restaurants, drank from different water fountains, and used separate restrooms. Now the signs that said "Colored Only" are gone. Delaney and other blacks can go into whatever restaurant they choose. But Delaney says he does not always feel welcome.
"When I walk into a restaurant these days, I don't fear getting beaten up," Delaney told SN. "but I still fear not being served. Sometimes it takes an awfully long time for a waiter to serve you. Is he just incompetent or racist? White patrons don't have to feel this way."
These days, black leaders are urging the U.S. government to spend more money to create new jobs that will help many poor African-Americans. But Delaney says that new laws are not the only answer to racial inequality. "There are a lot of laws already on the books that ensure racial equality," Delaney said. "I am still reminded every day that there is racial discrimination in the U.S. [To change that], there really has to be an attitude shift in America."