King’s dream deferred

A collage of civil rights activists at the King Center (photo by KG Brown)
A collage of civil rights activists at the King Center
(photo by KG Brown)

 

Stepping into the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, GA is like traveling back in time.

Vintage videos, literature about his life and relics from the past, including the wooden wagon that carried his body, adorn the walls and displays.

Inside the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, his sermons play, and, if you close your eyes, Martin is with you, his passion palpable.  Present truths in his speeches are a reminder that America still has miles to travel on the road to equality.

The original Ebenezer Baptist church where MLK preached in Atlanta. (photo by KG Brown)
The original Ebenezer Baptist church where MLK preached in Atlanta.
(photo by KG Brown)

But race has become one of many factors.  As American diversity increased, so have the modes of discrimination.

Gender
Discrimination by gender is as historically link to American society as is race.  From Mary Wollstonecraft’s introduction of “A Vindication of the rights of women,” to Billie Jean King, whose long-fought battle over equal pay for female tennis professionals was validated by her victory in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match against player Bobby Riggs, women have consistently had to fight for equal ranking to men.

In 2014, the White House reported that women make an average of only 77% of their male counterparts’ salaries, an increase of only 14% since 1951.

President Obama introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make employers accountable for basing pay on gender or any other factor.

It failed to pass by a mere 6 votes, without any Republican support.

Religion
Singer and counselor Vickie Hill has been a Muslim for more than 30 years.  She has lived its practices and mandates faithfully, her spiritual journey taking her across the world to live in Saudi Arabia where she worked as a teacher.

But it was in America that she felt the sting of discrimination.

An ad by HUD encourages Islamic women to report discrimination
An ad by HUD encourages Islamic women to report discrimination

“I’ve been called Osama’s mama for wearing my naqab,” she said.  “I was told to go back to my own country, told to ‘go back to where you

came from.’”

Hill, born and raised primarily in New York, said that the experiences came from her own.

“From my own people, she stated, “from black folks.”

Age
Author Ahmad Branch can vividly remember the day he was harassed by police while on a trip to Atlanta with four college friends.

“One of my friend’s brother-in-law had a lot of older cars, and he let us borrow one for the weekend,” he recalled.  “We were in a pink, 1976 or ’77 Catalina, pink on the outside…white on the inside with cotton candy trim,[a] really nice car.”

They had entered Georgia when they noticed state troopers at each passing exit.

Branch, a graduate of Alabama A&M University, recalled,  “By the time we get to the fourth exit, they’re all behind us.  First thing they ask is, ‘where are the drugs?’”

“They separate us individually, and they basically body search us, reach in our pants, under our [genitals].”

They brought in the dogs.  They told the travelers that they had found crack, encouraged the driver to give up his brother-in-law to be set free.

“We knew there was nothing but we were scared,” said Branch.  “They could have planted it.”

Then came the cavalry, a supervising officer who had heard the stop on the radio.

“He was black,” Branch said.  “He was like, ‘what’s going on?’”

Then, just like that, the group was released.

Branch was indifferent to the ordeal.

“It just confirmed what I always felt,” he said.  “If you’re young and black, that’s probable cause for them.”

A Dream Deferred

Outside the King Center is reality.  A homeless man on the steps begs for change.  A group of shirtless, younger men, pants sagging, are stagnate on one corner, smoking and drinking from brown paper bags as children run back and forth.

Conversations about the Michael Brown case can be overheard, loud, angry, aimed.  Color lines are drawn in his former Sweet Auburn neighborhood.

For now, King’s dream of equality for all still remains just that.

 

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