Martin Luther King Jr. – Racism and the New Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King Jr. is man of monstrous proportions, an icon, a leader and a legend that helped instigate great change in a time of great struggle. Martin Luther King Jr’s, “I have a Dream” speech is a powerful dream that is yet to be fulfilled. While the 1960’s civil rights movement helped integrate black communities into society and schools, racial disparity remains prevalent in America. There are great societal advances that need to happen for racial equality to come to fruition. From school funding to voter discrimination, wage disparity and career advancement to racial profiling, the American injustice system, prison industrial complex and police brutality and police murders of unarmed black men – advancement toward racial equality has remained stagnant in recent decades. Furthermore, with the rise of the nation’s first black president and the backlash of the Tea Party movement, racial prejudice has increased in the United States.

MLK Poster, Racism and the new Civil Rights movementLimited edition MLK Poster art by Progress Label

African American statistics in the American Injustice System:
• African Americans comprise 13% of the United States population and 14% of the monthly drug users, but African-Americans comprise 37% of the people arrested for drug-related crimes.

• African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than whites through the federal government for the same crimes.

• African Americans are 21% more likely than white men to receive mandatory minimum sentences and 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants.

• African Americans make up 57% of the individuals in state prisons for drug offenses.

• African American males have a 32% chance of going to jail, Latinos have 17% of going to jail and white men have an 8% chance of going to jail.

To learn more about the challenges facing African American communities, check out Bill Moyers Racism in America interviews with Ta-Nehsi Coates of the Atlantic, historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, Michelle Alexander author of the New Jim Crow and theologian James H. Cone, a scholar at the Union Theological Seminary in New York

The killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner and the injustices that surround those deaths have boiled frustrations within the African-American community and mainstream America. Mainstream media is finally shining a selective light on these subjects. With the emergence of Black Lives Matter and Ferguson Action, new civil rights movements have risen from the remains of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. For a little inspiration: Wu Tang Clan – Never Let Go

I reached out to friend and reporter Kai Wright, a research fellow of the Nation Institute and Editor-at-Large for to provide insight on the new civil rights movements, here’s our interview.

Progress: What are the modern civil rights issues of facing America today?
Kai Wright: Five or six years ago, when Benjamin Jealous was starting his stint as the head of the NAACP, he declared criminal justice reform a leading civil rights issue. This was controversial at the time. Rightwing caricatures notwithstanding, black America has long been conservative about law and order. But as this year has made plain, Jealous was prescient. The past three decades of aggressive policing in black neighborhoods has made criminal justice a central driver of racial inequity.

Related to that, economic justice has always been and remains the core racial justice issue of this country. White supremacy has since slavery been a tool of the 1 percent–of all the ways in which today’s conversation about King defangs his radical message, it is the omission of this idea that’s most noxious to me. Read:

Progress: We’ve seen many recent tragic and controversial deaths in the African American community, are these injustices on the rise OR are we just seeing more mainstream media coverage?
Kai Wright: They are hardly on the rise. But what’s notable is an exploding movement that refuses to let them pass. That’s the change–communities have refused to continue accepting the consequences of broken windows policing.

Progress: How do you compare the current Black Matters movement to the civil rights movements that Dr. King and others led in the early 1960s, or is it even fair to make a comparison?
Kai Wright: I’m not sure it’s helpful to compare and contrast. The movements of the 60s–and there were many, varied movements, not just the southern movement against segregation–faced the challenges then. Today’s movements exist in today’s realities. What’s important is there IS a movement now growing that insists America face the racial inequities that shape our lives.

Progress: The 1960’s civil rights movement benefited from very strong leadership. Although these leaders didn’t all share the same philosophies, together the movement created positive change and made a historic impact. Who are the current leaders of the Black Lives Matter and current black rights movements?
Kai Wright: For some reason, it givers a lot of folks anxiety that they can’t name a Big Leader for today’s movements–not just Black Lives Matter, but Occupy before it. One of the way successful social movements of the past have been defanged in mainstream memory, is by reducing them to a hero narrative. In any case, my Colorlines colleague Carla Murphy recently wrote a piece parsing many of these questions about today’s movement versus those of the past, and I’ll defer to her great reporting:

For a mainstream take on black leaders, see’s article: 12 New Faces of Black Leadership.

Checkout the Progress store for an awesome Martin Luther King Jr. t-shirt and Martin Luther King Jr. poster featuring the full text from his I have a Dream Speech.





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