Fifty years ago, the nation was embroiled in a struggle for civil rights. The divisive debates of the day were whether people who were black and brown could be in the same classrooms, movie theaters or even drink from the same water fountains as whites and be entitled to their Constitutional rights. In this brutal struggle, passive, civil disobedience was met with the violence of racist sheriff wielding batons, unleashing dogs and even firing hoses at kids. Local courts were complicit in racist violence and murders.
On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people marched on Washington in an act that would become part of American history. It was there that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” His key message was that everyone should be treated equally. Although that wasn’t the case at the time in the U.S., Dr. King felt that should be our future.
The progress achieved in half a century has been substantial. The gaps in education, jobs and social status have narrowed for groups that suffered discrimination. However, the population has continued to increase for 50 years, and with this growth, there are even more minority groups, including African-Americans, who continue to struggle for rights and equality.
Now more than ever, the March on Washington is still current, since rights violations and obstacles to social mobility are even more subtle.
Not long ago, one of the laws that came out of the civil rights movement 50 years ago was defeated by the U.S. Supreme Court when it struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. In several states, like North Carolina, voter suppression is already underway.
Earlier, the Supreme Court also weakened the federal government’s role in affirmative action policies. The court found that colleges and universities, both public and private, that take into account race or ethnic origin as a factor in admissions, must if challenged show that they have considered race-neutral alternatives. As a result, the states can decide these cases.
Both examples show how advances in civil rights have been giving way to conservative ideas. These setbacks clearly demonstrate that certain interests are working to defeat Dr. King’s dream and exclude some groups from the promise of America.
Today there is a new racial outlook that includes some past struggles as well as new ones. These are some of them:
Immigrant rights: The immigrant community is very similar to the African-American community of 50 years ago. Many immigrants are living in constant fear, afraid of the authorities. Despite making great contributions to society, they do not exist when it comes to the most basic rights.
Women’s rights: Women’s reproductive rights are under threat, as lawmakers limit or eliminate access to reproductive health care and attempt to control how women make decisions about their bodies.
High incarceration rates: No other country in the world imprisons its population like the U.S. does. Unfortunately, many prisoners nationwide are either Latino or African-American.
Education: From pre-K through college, our youth is constantly struggling to achieve, because of a lack of resources, failed educational programs and political agendas. The unaffordability of college education and the unfriendly student loan system jeopardize the future careers and socioeconomic status of our young Latinos.
Representation and socioeconomic mobility: Even though we have large numbers, our representation in government and among the executive ranks of the private sector has lagged behind. The lack of representation and other issues have made it extremely difficult for Latinos to achieve upward mobility.
Fifty years later, the march continues, the struggle still stands and the dream prevails.