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August 30, 2003
Column #1,148

Martin Luther King's Dreams: Crippled by Non-Marriage

   A century after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, exactly 40 years ago, and declared: "One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free...The Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination;

   "One hundred years later the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; one hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land...

   "There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, `When will you be satisfied?'

   "We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

   "We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating `for whites only.' We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote...

   "I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

   "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."

   Those are very specific yardsticks by which we might measure how much progress African-Americans have achieved and what remains to be done. Most important, what is the best strategy to close the gap?

   Signs "for whites only" disappeared and America's motels and hotels became open to all before Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Blacks now vote in such numbers that even ex-Dixiecrat Sen. Strom Thurmond became solicitous of black voters and Martin Luther King's birthday is celebrated as a national holiday.

   Black high school dropouts have fallen from 28.5 to 13.1 percent since 1970 and 11 percent of college students are now African-American, almost equal to their 12.9 percent share of the population. On the other hand, white high school students were only half as likely as blacks to drop out in 1970, and remain half as likely, at 5.9 percent.

   No longer is the Negro "crippled by manacles of segregation" or limited in "mobility from a smaller ghetto to a larger one." There are more African-Americans living in the suburbs of Washington D.C. than in the city itself.  While 250,000 heard King's "I have a dream" speech in 1963, only 4,000 attended the 40th anniversary.

   African-Americans are no longer living "on a lonely island of poverty." One third of blacks were poor in King's day vs. one-fifth today. True, the Children's Defense Fund notes the number of children in extreme poverty, is rising. Some 966,000 children are living in homes with less than $7,000 for a mother and three kids, up from 809,000 in 2000. However, thanks to welfare reform, there are 2.3 million fewer black children in poverty.

   In fact, the median income of black families with two wage earners in 1999 was a stunning $60,439 - virtually equal to the $61,878 of white families with two wage earners!

   The major economic gap is not between the races, but between the married and the unmarried - of both races. A white female head of household earns $26,000 v. $18,244 for black females. Both are less than half that of married two earner homes.

   The core black problem is that few marry. In fact, that situation has deteriorated. In 1970 only 20.6 percent of blacks had never married. In 2000 the percent doubled to 39.4. In 1970, two-thirds of blacks were married. Today only a third are.

   White discrimination has nothing to do with this self-inflicted wound.

   Here is a cause for the next generation of civil rights activists and African-American religious leaders.

   Sadly, as president of Marriage Savers, I cannot name one black leader who has championed the vital mission of building African-American marriages.

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