Dr. Martin Luther King

  • August 16, 2013

    U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) during this year’s ACS National Convention spoke a bit about his upbringing in a brutally racist society in rural Alabama. It was as Lewis recounted a time when he found inspiration in the words he heard over the radio from Martin Luther King Jr. and about the actions of Rosa Parks.

    “The action of Rosa Parks, the leadership and words of Dr. King inspired me to get in the way, to get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble,” he said at the ACS Convention.

    Lewis, in a New York Times feature, said that 50 years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which Lewis spoke, the nation is still haunted by “our dark past.” This summer alone has provided too many examples of a nation resistant or fatally indifferent to the lives and rights of minorities. Indeed great economic inequalities and blatant inequalities in the criminal justice system are festering, not receding. These inequalities are decimating minority communities from coast to coast.

    At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago, Lewis in front of the Lincoln Memorial provided a rousing call for equal opportunity, equality under the law. Today he is still pursuing the cause. At the ACS Convention Lewis presciently anticipated a devastating opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act. Lewis said, “I have a strange feeling in America, at this point in history, we’re just a little too quiet. We’ve come to a point where we almost want to resign, and say this is just the way it is. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are still too many people in our society who have been left out and left behind.”

    Starting next week and running through Aug. 28 an array of groups, such as the Leadership Conference on Civil & human Rights, The Urban League, NAACP, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, SEIU, MALDEF, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and many others will host events daily commemorating the historic March and talking about the challenges and obstacles to genuine equality and economic justice that remain. A schedule of those events is available at the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s website.

    As Lewis said at the ACS Convention the nation has made strides, but much work remains to be done. Lewis urged the gathering, “Don’t give up, don’t give in, our struggle is one that does not last one day or one week, or one year. It is a struggle of a life time, or many life times. We must do what we can, as Dr. King said, to create the beloved community.” Video of Lewis’s speech is here.

  • February 25, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Deborah N. Archer, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, New York Law School. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.

    No law has been more critical in advancing voting rights for all Americans than the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When Congress first enacted the Voting Rights Act, it concluded that case-by-case litigation had been wholly ineffective in guaranteeing African-Americans the right to vote and that nothing short of a prophylactic remedial scheme would succeed in eradicating the “insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country.” (South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 309 (1966).) The heart of the Voting Rights Act – the strong medicine that has done so much to protect the voting rights acts of people of color – is Section 5, which prohibits covered jurisdictions from implementing new voting standards, practices or procedures unless the proposed change has been “pre-cleared” by the Department of Justice or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (42 U.S.C. §1973(c)(a)) The law places the burden on those covered jurisdictions to prove that any proposed changes will not limit minority voting rights.

    From the moment Section 5 was first enacted, jurisdictions that fell within its purview depicted the legislation as an illegitimate intrusion by an all-powerful federal government on state and local sovereignty. In Shelby County v. Holder, Shelby County insists that the Act’s pre-clearance provisions are no longer neededbecause the Act has succeeded in doing so much good, and that covered jurisdictions now should be relieved from the “burdens” of pre-clearance. Never mind that as recently as 2008 Shelby County itself was found to have engaged in racially discriminatory conduct. The truth is that across the country, states, cities and counties continue to enact practices and procedures that suppress, dilute, and infringe upon minorities’ constitutional right to vote. The harms that Section 5 was designed to counter remain, making the law as critical as it has ever been.


  • January 27, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Hilary O. Shelton, Director, NAACP Washington Bureau & Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy

    In January, communities throughout the United States join together to commemorate the life and contributions of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is around Dr. King’s birthday when many schoolchildren embrace the Civil Rights Movement, recite parts of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and truly understand that they can be whatever and whomever they want to be.  

    Most of us know the tragic tale of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, but far too many people don’t know that Dr. King’s final legislative victory is one of his most enduring but largely ignored achievements.  Much of his work during the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966 was an initiative to ensure just and equal access to quality housing for African-Americans. Dr. King’s historic march in Marquette Park laid the groundwork for our nation’s fair housing laws.  One week after Dr. King’s death, Congress passed the federal Fair Housing Act, a law that protects us from discrimination in housing based on race, religion, color, sex, national origin, familial status and disability. 

    The Fair Housing Act codifies the affirmative responsibility to end segregation and promote integration throughout the United States.  The National Fair Housing Alliance’s (NFHA) issue brief released this week by ACS, “The Promise of the Fair Housing Act and the Role of Fair Housing Organizations,” discusses Dr. King’s quest for fair housing and how fair housing organizations do their part to keep The Dream alive. 

    Today, the Fair Housing Act is a well-crafted tool that must continue to be sharpened in a nation that continues to grow and diversify.  Census projections indicate that in less than 30 years, our nation will be made up mostly of people of color. Yet, the nation our children grow up in today remains strikingly similar in some respects to the nation Dr. King was trying to change.  At the end of every school day, most children of all backgrounds return to segregated neighborhoods.  In neighborhoods of color, there are significantly fewer opportunities for children to reach their true potential.

  • January 18, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program

    The fact that Martin Luther King seems like an increasingly distant historical figure is only partly explained by the relentless passing of time. The rest can be explained by the limited way in which his life and work is often described. King is most frequently linked with his protests against segregated buses and lunch counters and other examples of apartheid that seem far removed from the present era, a time when an African American occupies the nation’s highest office.

    Any complacency about society’s success in addressing the most obvious forms of discrimination is unwarranted. In fact, significant parts of King’s dream remain unrealized and seldom commented upon. Throughout his struggle, King emphasized economic inequalities in American society. In his “I Have a Dream Speech” he railed about the fact that, a hundred years after emancipation, African Americans still lived “on a lonely island of poverty.” He complained that the passage of a century did not change the fact African Americans “still languished in the corners of American Society.” On the day he died, he was protesting the mistreatment of Memphis sanitation workers, a mistreatment that was in part economic.

    What would the Martin Luther King who was concerned with economic justice make of the fact that, in a period of general economic crisis, African Americans are hit twice as hard, enduring an unemployment rate twice that of the nation as a whole?

  • January 16, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Cedric Ricks, Communications Associate, National Fair Housing Alliance

    Nearly 46 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a 1966 summer march in Chicago's Marquette Park demanding fair housing. King protested a dual housing market, in which whites were free to reside wherever they could afford, but African-Americans were barred from many parts of Chicago and in other American cities because of restrictive covenants, social practice and discrimination in lending

    Before he left Chicago, King referred to the historic protest as "a first-step in a 1,000-mile journey." Since then real progress has been made with the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 - passed one week after King's assassination - and the enactment of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.

    But to achieve a broad affirmative vision of fair housing many additional steps are still needed. It's entirely fitting we consider what comes next as our nation honors Dr. King's birthday with a federal holiday.

    Congress took an important step forward toward equality and justice with the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and President Obama advanced even further this month by appointing former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to lead the Bureau.  

    The CFPB has one central mission: to make the market for consumer financial products and services work for ALL consumers, responsible providers and the economy as a whole. To accomplish its mission, the Bureau seeks to promote transparency and consumer choice while preventing unfair, deceptive and discriminatory practices.