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Remembering Dr. King And ‘The Other America’

Charlene Crowell | 1/18/2019, 6 a.m.
Once again on the third Monday in January, much of the nation will mark the anniversary of the death of ...

Once again on the third Monday in January, much of the nation will mark the anniversary of the death of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Countless programs and events will no doubt recall several of his famous speeches from the 1963 March on Washington’s “I Have A Dream” to his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” delivered in Memphis during the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike.

In a life of only 39 years, Dr. King captured global attention in his valiant, nonviolent fight for the values of freedom, justice and equality. Preaching and fighting for long overdue citizenship rights first promised to all in the Declaration of Independence, he championed economic justice— especially for blacks to have safe, decent and affordable housing. He also called for full participation in the economy, and an end to financial exploitation.

Now 51 years since his assassination, his words still strike a resonant chord. His words— written as prose but markedly poetic— remain as timely as they are timeless.

“There are so many problems facing our nation and our world, that one could just take off anywhere,” Dr. King said in a speech delivered on April 14, 1967 at Stanford University.

Entitled, “The Other America” Dr. King began by recapping the nation’s bounty and beauty, noting how “America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity,” and how “millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.”

For his audience, those comments almost certainly reflected the lifestyles of the students attending one of the nation’s elite educational institutions.

In his inimitable Baptist cadence, Dr. King then went on to speak of the “Other America” that was equally real but far removed from the commonplace privilege associated with Stanford.

“Little children in this other America are forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies. As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams,” said Dr. King. “It’s more difficult today because we are struggling for genuine equality. It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent, housing conditions.”

In 2019 the two Americas Dr. King wrote about still remain. A nation once lauded for its enviable and expanding middle class has evolved into a nation of people who are either growing wealthy or growing poor. In this unfortunate process, the nation’s envied middle class is vanishing.

Historically, homeownership has been a reliable measure of the nation’s middle class. Late last year it stood at 64.4 according to the Census Bureau. Yet when race and ethnicity are added who owns a home today discloses a far different picture. White homeownership was higher than the national average at 73.1 percent.

But blacks still-suffering from the financial losses from the now decade-old foreclosure crisis had a homeownership rate of 41.7 percent, lower than its pre-housing crisis rate of 47.7 percent.