Since MLK is now officially a hero, you’d like him to be a civic hero rather than a hero of the faction opposed to yours. But while he was alive, and for some time after his death, your faction hated him, and everything he stood for, and tried to defame him. No prominent conservative or libertarian politician, writer, or thinker supported the civil rights movement he led.
The factional split was not identical to the partisan split. There were (mostly Southern) Democratic racists who opposed the civil rights movement; they were known as Dixiecrats or “conservative Democrats,” and their heirs followed Strom Thurmond into the Republican Party, which they now dominate. There were also Republican supporters of civil rights; they were called “liberal Republicans” (I voted for a few of them) and your faction now calls people like them RINOs and has successfully purged them from the Republican Party.
Your faction was, adamantly and unanimously, on the wrong side of history, as spectacularly as the small share of progressives who supported the Soviet dictatorship. Even today, I have failed to find a single libertarian or conservative prepared to speak out against gutting the Voting Rights Act.
Martin Luther King died while on a campaign to support a public-sector labor union. You’re entitled to say that he was a bad man and a Communist, as your faction did while he was alive, and that his assassination was the natural result of his use of civil disobedience, which is what Ronald Reagan said at the time. You’re entitled to say that he was a great man but that his thoughts are no longer applicable to the current political situation. But what you’re not entitled to do is to pretend that, if he were alive today, MLK would not be fighting against you and everything you stand for. He would.
Here at Wonkblog we wanted to do two sets of posts to mark the anniversary. The first would show, in charts and graphs, how much has gotten better over the last 50 years. The second would show, in charts and graphs, how much hasn’t. It proved depressingly easy to find the charts showing how little progress we’ve made and depressingly hard to find the charts showing how much.
The case for optimism can be found most clearly in political participation. African Americans have entirely closed the voting gap with whites. They’ve gone from five members of Congress in 1965 to 44 in 2013. Fifty years after African Americans couldn’t use public bathrooms, a black man now lives in the White House.
The economic data, however, tells an almost completely opposite story. Unemployment among African Americans was more than twice as high as it was among whites in 1965, and that remains true today. In fact, over the last 50 years, the average unemployment rate among blacks has been 11.6 percent — worse than the national average at the deepest point of any recession. If the unemployment black America has lived with for 50 years afflicted white America for even a month, it would be a national emergency.
Predictably, the income gap hasn’t closed and the wealth gap has actually widened. The poverty rate among African Americans fell by 20 points between 1965 and 2000, but it’s risen by six points — to 28 percent — in the last decade. That is to say, more than one out of four African Americans is poor. The marriage gap has widened sharply, and today, more than half of all African American children live in a single-parent household.
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