Durham, N.C. — The 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prompts thoughtful reflection on how far the nation has progressed in race relations since that famous day on the National Mall — and what work remains to be done.
WRAL News posed questions to two university professors and an elected leader, asking whether they believe King’s dream of equality has been achieved. Here are their responses.
Irvin Joyner, law professor, North Carolina Central University
“The needs today are as pressing as they were then. In fact, the same issues raised in 1963 are being raised in 2013 – and that’s depressing. It’s also inspiring to know that people remember and are willing to re-fight all of the battles we had to fight. This is a day, and after today if you don’t return to do the work, then the day is going to be meaningless. We have made some incremental progress, but we have found there is resistance to that progress. And along the way, they have been steadily trying to chop back and keeping us away from the level we need to be at.
“There are changes, of course. (We) didn’t have an African-American as president in 1963, nor did anyone really dream that we would. But electing a person does not lift the boat for all African-Americans and all racial minorities in this country.”
Bill Bell, mayor, City of Durham
“We made great gains – the fact that I’m sitting here as the mayor of the City of Durham – my concern is I think we are on a slippery slope. If we are not careful, we could very easily slip back into that chasm we were in in the ‘50s. We still have far too much poverty, and it tends to be in the African-American community. We still are not graduating enough of our children out of high school. Reduing crime in the community, reducing poverty, increasing educational level is important for everyone.
“We still don’t have the assets that the majority community has in this nation. We still don’t have the home ownership that the majority has in this community. I think in terms of economics, we still don’t have the number of businesses I would like to see us have in terms of owning businesses. When we get there, we will see a lot of the ideas that Rev. King talked about will help us reach the dream he talked about.”
William Darity, professor of public policy and African-American studies, Duke University
“I may be an exception in proposing that (the dream has not been realized). I don’t think there has been a significant amount of progress toward equality in the United States over the past 50 years, particularly if we look at economic disparities. We have certainly made some progress that appears to be rolling back now in the capacity of black folks to participate fully in the political system. Certainly, if we look at 1963 versus 2013 in terms of the presence of blacks as voters, there has to be a dramatic change.
"If we look at the relative economic position of blacks in the United States, I would argue that on some dimensions, it’s actually gotten worse. I don’t think any social policies were pursued that would change the structure of the American economy to eliminate discrimination in the American economy.”