King's life changed America, and his assassination in April 1968 stirred America as America had not been stirred since the Civil War, a war that removed the shackles of slavery from African Americans. Breaking slavery's back required wise men, compromise, a new constitution, a Civil War and the descendants of slaves, led by a latter-day Moses, to rise up and challenge America's resolve to free "all mankind," including the Negro, as King referred to his people in a day before the term Negro was "politically incorrect."
King's annual holiday provides me a time to ponder his accomplishments, accomplishments that took far too long to achieve, the final end of slavery, implied as it was. We need to remember slavery was one of two issues never fully resolved during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 - but ended up in the Constitution anyway, Article I, Section 9.
But America continues to be divided over racial issues, and I often wonder if King would be pleased with what his associates have achieved since his assassination. I also wonder if his "dream" has been fulfilled as he had dreamed it. I think not. Nor do I believe he would be happy with the directional changes made by his associates shortly after his death. His associates sold out King's dream just as Lincoln's associates sold out his dream of bringing a nation together - not dividing it further, as Lincoln's followers did with their carpet-bagging governances.
Evidence of his associates' sell-out can be found in those 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, individuals primarily elected by African Americans, from primarily African-American Congressional districts. Every African-American Congressperson but one has become a member of "the club," the name the CBC members gave themselves. The CBC was formed in 1969, following passage of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society legislation, with nine members. In 2008 membership in "the club" had risen to 43 - 10 percent of the House of Representatives. It has become a powerful legislative force, for Democrats. J.C. Watts, a Republican from Oklahoma: the holdout.
When asked why he refused to join CBC, Watts said "they say that I had sold them out and [was an] 'Uncle Tom,' and I said well, they deserve to have that view. But I have my thoughts, too. And I say they are race-hustling poverty pimps." Harsh words for fellow African Americans. When a white Congressman attempted to join "the club" he was refused membership. A CBC member, Congressman William Lacy Clay, responded to his request for membership by stating: "He does not, and cannot meet, the membership criteria, unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we (CBC) are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on these objectives." I doubt that King's "dream" included such racist language.
My point in writing about the CBC is that it reminds me of another "club" of Democrats - the "Southern Block" of Congressional members, all Democrats, elected from the South following the election of Franklin Roosevelt. Their strength and influence was immense and Roosevelt turned to them to help pass his New Deal, a program that led to Kennedy's New Frontier, Johnson's Great Society, and President Barack Obama's program to "fundamentally change" America into a socialist society.
Obama is receiving strong support for his programs from the CBC. Two of the original nine CBC members, John Conyers from Detroit and Charles Rangel from New York City, are still in Congress and both, due to their seniority, chair powerful committees in the House. That is what happened with the "Southern Block" during the New Deal years, all the powerful committees were chaired by Democrats from the South with long seniority.
I like to think that King's "dream" would have focused on helping his followers strengthen their families, not destroy families as the Great Society did, purposely, to help those families educate their children, with fathers assuming the role of family patriarch and bread-winner so their children would be able to pull themselves up by their boot-straps and become strong supporters of true republican government and supporting the principles of freedoms embedded in the Constitution by America's founding fathers. Had King's "dream" come-to-pass I don't believe so many of "his people" would be incarcerated - nor would the school drop-out rate of "his people" continue to grow.
I'd like to believe that had King not been assassinated, as was Lincoln, America would have been able to heal those deep wounds caused by the racial issues, and America would be closer to achieving King's "dream" of white and black working together.
Donald Conkey, a retired agricultural economist, lives in Woodstock.