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04.04.2008 Feature Article

I have a dream40 years after Dr. Martin Luther King:Have African Americans lived the American Dream?

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April 4 2008 marks the 40th anniversary of the murder of the African-American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King jnr.

At this significant milestone in the history of the United States and African-Americans in particular given the current climate, it is appropriate to ask whether after 40 years since the murder of the civil rights leader the quality of life for African-Americans has improved or gotten worse.

Let us examine this question closely using a critical analysis that uses the past, present and future to arrive at a balanced conclusion.

The overwhelming majority of the current generation of African-Americans are the descendants of Ghanaians (Akan, Ga, Dagbani, Ewe) who were stolen and taken to the Americas in what is often referred to as the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Without going into the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, suffice it to say that our ancestors were brutally tortured and stripped of their humanity during over 400 years of free labour that built America to the great power we see today.

However it was not until after the end of the American war of independence in which many of our ancestors fought and died for that the emancipation for African-Americans was delivered.

The likes of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman all contributed greatly to the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade by the United States in 1865 by President Abraham Lincoln.

Under enslavement, it was made illegal for African-Americans to read or write. However, despite this, many great African-Americans such as Granville T Woods, Elijah McCoy, George Carver Washington, Garret Morgan, Louis Latimer and Benjamin Banneker rose above this illegal nonsense and became pioneers in science and technology.

Between 1865 and 1964 African-Americans lived under severe apartheid like conditions often referred to as Jim Crow laws where African-Americans were treated and viewed worse than animals.

The whole American society was separated on the basis of skin color with separate schools, restaurants, hospitals, churches, play-grounds etc for Whites and Blacks alike. Even cemeteries were separated where African-Americans were not allowed to be buried in the same cemetery as White people.

Also during this period many African-American men were chased by gangs of White men simply because they were Black and when they were caught they killed.

This became known as lynching and between 1865 and 1964 thousands of African-American men were brutally lynched.

However, despite this brutal period, African-Americans were determined to improve their quality of life and they cultivated a climate where there were able to develop sustainable communities and had their own churches, schools, universities and businesses.

It was as a direct result of some of the severe violations of human rights that African-Americans suffered under these Jim Crow laws that African-Americans like Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jnr and Benn Ammi amongst others began to stand up to this inhumane treatment by empowering African-Americans with the belief of what they were capable of doing for themselves.

Martin Luther King Jnr was one of those who took up the mantle and became a proponent for change in American society.

Following the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her bus seat for a White man, Dr. King led a series of bus boycotts that resulted in African-Americans being able to use the same buses as White people.

King also led a series of protests and peaceful non-violent demonstrations across America particularly in the Deep South to bring home to the majority of Americans the appalling injustices that Afrikan-Americans were being subjected to.

Perhaps Martin Luther King Jnr's greatest feat was to inspire more than 250,000 Americans of all creeds, colors and religious beliefs to assemble at the Washington Monument where he delivered his famous 'I have a dream' speech in 1963 in which he outlined his vision for an America based on equality, justice and racial tolerance.

It is the tenets of this speech with which to judge the present quality of life for African-Americans.

It would be inconceivable not to believe that tremendous progress had been made that has impacted greatly on the quality of life for some African-Americans.

For example when the civil rights bill was passed in 1964 by the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration, it gave the opportunity for thousands of African-Americans via the Affirmative Action programme the chance to compete on an equitable basis in all areas of American society where they had previously been denied access.

As a result of this Affirmative Action policy, which was resented by many White people, many African-Americans have been able to climb on merit to the higher echelons of American society.

Whether as lawyers, state governors, senior high ranking politicians, corporate directors, film stars, major sports personalities, etc, some African-Americans have had their share of the American Dream.

However, those success stories hide the real state of affairs for the vast majority of the 40 million African-Americans and this is why 40 years after the murder of Martin Luther King Jnr the quality of life for African-Americans has in fact got worse. The following statistics bear witness to this.

• About 20% of young African-American men between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor working – compared with only 9% of young White men. Despite the “economic boom” of the nineties, this percentage has not fallen substantially over the last ten years.

• There are more young African-American men in jail than in university.

• African-American men are 4 times likely than White men to be stopped and searched by the police without being charged.

• In 1993, White households had invested nearly three times as much in stocks and mutual funds as African-American households. Since then the stock market has more than doubled its value.

• African-American heart attack patients are far less likely than Whites to undergo cardiac catheterization, a common and potentially lifesaving procedure, regardless of the race of their doctors. Black and White doctors together referred White patients for catheterization about 40% more often than African-American patients.

• African-American men are more likely to suffer from prostate cancer then White men.

• African-American women are four times more likely than White women to die while giving birth.

• Black levels of unemployment have been roughly twice those of Whites since 1954.

• The average income for African-Americans is 61% less per year than the average White income. That is the same difference as it was in 1880!

Therefore what the above shows is that little has changed for African-Americans since the days of slavery.

To further compound this we all saw the terrible images of African-Americans during the Hurricane Katrina episode which exposed the dire poverty of African-Americans living in the Deep South who were affected the most by this powerful hurricane which destroyed many African-American communities from which they have never recovered.

Add to this the sub-prime mortgage crisis which has affected mainly poor African-Americans and to the daily racial intolerance suffered by vast swathes of African-Americans including a robust denial of its enslavement past.

So 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King and 45 years after his famous 'I have a Dream' speech notwithstanding some outstanding achievements in fields as diverse as politics, sport, medicine, technology, invention and music, it would be fair, balanced and right to conclude that the vast majority of African-Americans have not seen the American Dream but more importantly not seen the ideals of Martin Luther King's speech that advocated total equality irrespective of one's colour

Accra Mail
Accra Mail, © 2008

The author has 73 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: AccraMail

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