Fifty Years On, Have We Progressed?

by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Fifty Years Ago Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s book, Where Do We Go From Here? was published.

Beacon Broadside, a Project of Beacon Press, noted the occasion. The article said, “King’s acute analysis of American race relations couldn’t be more prophetic. Written in 1967, in isolation in a rented house in Jamaica, King’s final book lays out his plans and dreams for America’s future: the need for better jobs; higher wages; decent housing; quality education; and above all, the end to global suffering. King’s dreams are very much our own today.”

In honor of the anniversary of the publication of Where Do We Go From Here? Beacon Broadside provided a collection of quotations from the book. Each one reminds me of what King worked for, longed for, and was not able to achieve. Have we progressed at all? I have to wonder!

Here is one.

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

King does not say this ignorance is willful or evil. But it is real.

The quote makes me think of Jodi Picoult’s latest novel Small Great Things, which I discussed with my book group recently. The main character is Ruth, a Black nurse. When she is on trial, she works with a white attorney named Kennedy. Kennedy believes she is liberal and non-racist, but over several months and many conversations, the attorney becomes aware of how much she doesn’t know about the lives of Black people in the U.S. today. It’s a good read!

 

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