December 9, 2016
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Call To Action For Civil Rights, Community Leaders

By Richard P. Burton, Sr., Director, Project R.E.A.C.H.

 JACKSONVILLE, FL - Martin Luther King Jr. had an extraordinary ability to mentor and motivate young Americans to join together in a campaign for racial equality. He also capitalized on the experience and wisdom of men and women who had been fighting for racial and social justice for decades. Leaders such as Medgar Evers, James Farmer, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, were some of the leading civil rights activists of King's era.

 

During the 1950s and 1960s, the golden era of civil rights activism and the civil rights movement mobilized the nation's collective consciousness around issues of racial equity. The U.S. Supreme Court officially ended legal school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954. Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Black political participation increased dramatically. In 1964, only 5 blacks served in the U.S. Congress. By 1998, the number had grown to 39.

 

But the victories of the movement, however decisive they seemed at the time, did not bring the long-term parity that activists and policymakers hoped for. Bread-and-butter issues such as poverty, unemployment, substandard housing, inferior education, unsafe streets, homelessness and voting disparities are still major civic and social issues today.

 

One of the shortcomings of the civil rights movement of this era was its failure to envision the need for a fluid model of action to address new civil rights issues in the years ahead and the urgency to continue on its mission. Indeed, the issue today is how to develop flexible remedies to address poverty and its side effects and the nation's mindset of locking them up and throwing away the key.

 

We must rebuild the African American and voluntary sector of civil and human rights advocates, who truly care about the least and not just the almighty dollars and their perceived power. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition was a step in the direction of pitching a huge tent, under whose shelter old and new minorities and the poor could find common issues and agendas. Martin Luther King's proposed Poor People's campaign in 1967 also recognized that a civil rights coalition based entirely on race would not be sufficient to address the problem of white poverty as well.

 

Let us urge our President, those in Congress and Community Leaders to remember these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have A Dream Speech" ...It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

 

The whirlwinds of revolt today should shake our Nation until we have dealt successfully with the issues of poverty, drugs, gangs, violence and a criminal justice system that's out of control and costing far too much.

 

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. Let us move to change the social and political landscape for the number of nameless and faceless Americans who need more than rhetoric during these difficult days. Let us stop idolizing the rich and famous and have them to come down from their head table and visit the slums, ghetto and disenfranchised communities as did Martin, Malcolm, Medgar, Rosa, Fannie, Roy, Whitney, James and A. Phillip.


STORY TAGS: BLACK , AFRICAN AMERICAN , MINORITY , CIVIL RIGHTS , DISCRIMINATION , RACISM , NAACP , URBAN LEAGUE , RACIAL EQUALITY , BIAS , EQUALITY



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