Could Obama's Election Mean the End of the Black Civil Rights Agenda? Yes, If We Let It, but We Must Not

By Jackson, Jesse L., Sr. | Ebony, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Could Obama's Election Mean the End of the Black Civil Rights Agenda? Yes, If We Let It, but We Must Not


Jackson, Jesse L., Sr., Ebony


If Barack Obama is elected president of the United States, most Americans will proudly celebrate it as a giant leap forward in our history. For African-Americans in particular, it will represent the latest and greatest chapter in our historical development from slavery to freedom and racial equality. But some will seek to use that milestone to argue that there is no longer any need for a Black civil rights agenda. They will point to the diverse coalition of Americans of all races who joined ranks to elect a Black man to the highest office in the land and argue that, therefore, racial inequality is a thing of the past. They are wrong.

In fact, to speak of a "Black agenda" is an optical illusion. The Black agenda is America's agenda. It is the 13th Amendment. It is workers' right to organize. It is women's right to vote. It is the 1954 Supreme Court decision to outlaw racial supremacy. It is that all Americans should have the right to vote; that every American should have a decent house and a livable wage.

Ours is not some separatist agenda in the margins. It is at the very center of the American Dream. Our agenda is equal protection tinder the law. Equal access. Equal opportunity. That's the Black agenda. That's America's agenda.

While a progressive coalition of voters will rightfully claim much of the credit for Obama's election if it happens, putting a Black man in the White House does not automatically end the racial disparities that still exist in our nation. At the heart of the Civil Rights Movement that some would now declare unnecessary was the goal of creating a level playing field of equal opportunity for all Americans. That mission has not yet been accomplished. As we move up politically, the inequality gap between Blacks and Whites grows wider. We are freer today, but in many ways, we are less equal than we have been in the past. The poverty rate among African-Americans, for example, is the highest it has been since I960. The walls of racial discrimination are down, but the bridges have not been built to close the gaps. Ending the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow was one stage, and Whites joined us. But we must be very dear that progressive Whites joining us cannot trade off our central mission of ending racial disparity.

We cannot trade off as we scek to get that vote that there are more than 2.4 million Americans in jail or prison and 40 percent--about 1 million--of them are Black. …

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