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The Struggle Continues By Sherry Cannon

The Struggle Continues 

By Sherry Cannon

Sherry-Cannon-photo1I’m trying to reconcile or at least understand in my own thought process how in the twenty-first century we still find ourselves in this place.  How is it that in the year 2015 there is still a divide as wide as the Mississippi River between the “Haves” and the “Have Not’s”?

Being a child of the 1950’s from Missouri, I’m not that cynical to believe that we have not made great strides in this country. However, there are some things today that are as bad as it was sixty years ago. It’s been fifty-two years and we’ve yet to realize the words Dr. King spoke, about not being judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.

Come take a journey back in time with me:

Before World War I the South was home for 90% of African-Americans. From 1915-1930 during the period called the “Great Migration” over 1.6 million African-Americans moved to the Northeast, Midwest, and West. They were tired of sharecropping and being cheated by white plantation owners, often owing them more than what they made at harvest. Although moving from the South offered relief from legally sanctioned discrimination, it did little for their financial status.  They survived mainly as domestic workers, porters or ministers. Migration of European workers halted when WWI began and factories were forced to hire African-Americans to fulfill the demands of the war. 

Another 5 million African-Americans migrated from the South from about 1941-1970. This period was knows as the second “Great Migration.” They continued to leave the South looking for a better way of life. The onset of World War II again afforded them work at higher wages outside of the Jim Crow south. This” second “Great Migration” established the foundation for black political power, business enterprise, and union activism.

African-Americans began to use their power as consumers to achieve social change. “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaigns sprang up in Northern urban centers – particularly in communities such as Harlem and Chicago’s South Side – protesting discriminatory hiring practices. Often, white-owned commercial establishments that all but monopolized business in black communities would refuse to hire neighborhood residents. Protesters would picket these establishments not only to increase job opportunities, but also to increase awareness about the community’s collective economic power.

The years between 1950 and 1970 were a time of tumultuous social and political change in the United States. The “Civil Rights Movement” reached its pinnacle between 1954 and 1968.  Through non-violent civil disobedience, civil resistance, sit-ins, boycotts, voter registration and community educations they demanded that the racist Jim Crow system be dismantled and allow black and brown people be treated as full-fledged citizens.

Brown vs. Board of Education case was won at the Supreme Court in 1954, ending segregation of public schools.  Before Brown only about 1 in 40 African-Americans earned a college degree. Through educational advances the black middle-class emerged.  The gap in life expectancy between white and black people was cut by more than half because of those advances as well.

 

In 1961 John Kennedy issued the first affirmative action executive order, stating that government contractors must hire applicants and give equal treatment without regard to race, creed, color, or natural origin. Other gains were won
with the signing of The Civil Rights Act in 1964, the Voters Right Act in 1965 and the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

In 1971 when Richard Nixon’s declared a “War on Drugs”, it affected the black community exponentially. People behind bars for non-violent drug offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to 400,000 by 1997. This was aided by the zero tolerance policies of Ronald Reagan and mandatory minimum sentences of Bill Clinton that have the prison population today at 2.3 million. Black and brown people make up 57% of the people incarcerated for drug offenses. There are 2.7 million children with a parent in prison in the United States.

Schools are more segregated today than they were in 1980. The typical black student attends a school where only 29% of the fellow students are white, compared to 40% in 1980. Schools remain segregated because the neighborhoods where they are located are segregated. Federal requirements that communities must pursue residential integration have been unenforced; and federal programs to subsidize movement of low-income families to middle class communities have been weak and ineffective. We all witnessed the “not in my neighborhood” response to the relocating of residents from Taft Homes to middle class neighborhoods around this city.

The Supreme Court made two major rulings that also assisted in the set back of African-Americans. One was the 5-4 decision to over-turn a key section of the Voting Rights Act. Fifteen states, mostly in the south, were required to have a federal review before any changes could be made to their voting rules. Since the dismantling of section 4 of the VRA in 2013, eight out of the fifteen states have implemented voting restriction that has effectively disenfranchised millions of predominately black people.

The Supreme Court also over-turned a lower court’s decision that upheld Michigan’s right to end Affirmative Action via a ballot initiative. It allowed for states not to consider race in the admission to state public universities. Since this ruling, states that forbid affirmative action in higher education, like Florida, California, and Michigan, has seen a significant drop in the enrollment of black and brown students in their most selective colleges and universities.

At the end of the day, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no permanent victories. We must stay alert and engaged lest we continue to see the erosion of the gains won by those that came before us. I’m reminded of a speech Senator Barack Obama made when he ran his first campaign for president, in it he said, “Unity is the great need of the hour — the great need for this hour. The Scripture tells us that we are judged not just by word, but by deed. And if we are to truly bring about the unity that is so crucial in this time, we must find it within ourselves to act on what we know to do; to understand that living up to this country’s ideals and its possibilities will require great effort and resources; sacrifice and stamina.”      The Struggle continues…..