By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —
In one of his last speeches, at Grosse Point, MI., the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., laid out his next campaign, the one he died pursuing. It was not about civil rights for minorities but economic rights for “the other America” (the title of a book by Michael Harrington that influence Pres. Johnson to launch the war on poverty).
King said at Grosse Point:
“…I want to use as a title for my lecture tonight, “The Other America.” And I use this title because there are literally two Americas. Every city in our country ha s this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts, and so every city ends up being two cities rather than one. There are two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. In this America, millions of people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality flowing before them. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. In this America children grow up in the sunli ght of opportunity.
But there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that tr ansforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this other America, thousands and thousands of people, men in particular walk the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. In this other America, millions of people are forced to live in vermin-filled, distressing housing conditions where they do not have the privilege of having wa ll-to-wall carpeting, but all too often, they end up with wall-to-wall rats and roaches. Almost forty percent of the Negro families of America live in sub-standard housing conditions.
In this other America, thousands of young people are deprived of an opportuni ty to get an adequate education. Every year thousands finish high sc hool reading at a seventh, eighth and sometimes ninth grade level. Not because they’re dumb, not because they don’t have th e native intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so over-crowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated if you will, that the best in these minds can never come out. Probably the most critical problem in the other America is the economic probl em. There are so many other people in the other America who can never make ends meet because their incomes are far too low if they have incomes, and their jobs ar e so devoid of quality. And so in th is other America, unemployment is a reality and under-employment is a reality.
King saw African-American unemployment as key to their being stuck in the Other America:
“The unemployment rate on the basis of statistics from the labor department is about 8.8 per cent in the black community. But these statistics only take under consideration indi viduals who were once in the labor market, or individuals who go to employment o ffices to seek employment. But they do not take under consideration the thousands of people who have given up, who have lost motivation, the thousands of people who have had so many doors closed in their faces that they feel def eated and they no longer go out and look for jobs, the thousands who’ve come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. These people are considered the discouraged and when you add the disc ouraged to the individuals who can’t be calculated through statistics in the unemployment category, the unemploym ent rate in the negro community probably goes to 16 or 17 percent. And among black youth, it is in some communities as high as 40 and 45 percent.
If anything the African-American real unemployment statistics are higher today than they were then. Here is a graph:
Martin Luther King died while in Memphis campaigning for better wages for sanitation workers.
Obama’s proposals to raise capital gains taxes (from unearned income via investing) back to 28%, The top 1% have monopolized most of the new wealth created in recent years, whereas the wages of most salary earners have been flat for the past decade and a half. There is a relationship between the way the wealthy have received the benefits of the recovery and the way that workers have not.
King was cut down before he could make his plea. It is for progressives to continue the dream.