America’s Long March

America’s election and re-election of its first black president shows how far it has come since its exploitation of African-Americans and its infamous racist laws.

When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, Barack Obama was not even three years old. Fifty years later, he is now sitting in the White House Oval Office, the same office where James Polk, the 11th president of the United States, sold slaves. The election and re-election of its first black president shows how far America has come since its exploitation of African-Americans in Mississippi Delta cotton fields and the institutionalized racism of its infamous Jim Crow laws. Even an especially conservative state like Mississippi is unrecognizable compared to a half-century ago.

This extensive transformation was made possible by the civil rights movement, a revolutionary effort that was intelligent enough to strategically use nonviolence. Its leaders, Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin and John Lewis, offered dignity to citizens who were denied it, and inspired oppressed people all over the world.

Racism still exists in America, and Barack Obama’s election has not made the country post-racial. Though interracial relations have improved, racism still manifests itself in other ways. On August 13, the United States will be in Geneva, attending a session of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The U.S. will explain how it plans to fight racism’s contemporary forms, particularly within American legal and prison systems. Some say that a dependency culture explains the economic challenges that African-Americans face today. But as Southern author William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” If African-Americans have greater difficulty achieving Martin Luther King’s dream of economic and social justice than other people, it is because the legacy of racism continues to this day.

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