All of the 50th anniversary acknowledgment and celebration is incredibly important to do, and was done in a way fitting for the moment and the man (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and no doubt inspiring too, but we are potentially missing one powerful message that I believe would actually distress Dr. King today. If the civil rights movement efforts that marked the period between 1955-1968, was and remains today as arguably the single greatest transformational achievement of and for Black Americans, in America, then we should be both proud and very sad.
Proud for all of the obvious reasons that the world is now reasonably well aware of, and that the 50th anniversary activities underscored. Proud also, because the civil rights achievements were not about Black America, but in fact changed all of America. Just look at the reality of President Barack Obama, speaking from the same place that Dr. King once spoke a mere 50 years ago, and you cannot help but be proud of 'where we have come.'
I actually consider the civil rights movement to represent the third legitimate American revolution in this country's history, following America's freedom from Britain, and of course the Civil War.
The civil rights movement freed America's consciousness, allowing us to have a legitimate rebirth of values here at home, and profound and inspiring moral authority around the world. Moral authority that still benefits America's foreign policy to this day.
But this whole discussion is also very sad, because this also means that arguably the greatest period in the African-American experience in America, was about shutting down and turning back 100 years of bad things and horrible public policy. It was about taking down backwards 'whites only' signs, and allowing the Black community to enjoy the same basis rights of access as were enjoyed by most everyone else.
It was about reversing a 100 year legacy of 'black codes,' first allowed to fester and grow under then President Andrew Johnson (who took office after President Lincoln was killed), and which 50 years later morphed into Jim Crow Laws in the southern states. Local and state laws that, to be blunt, stood in direct and absolute conflict with federal law.
Our greatest achievement, as a people, to date, was about turning back 'bad stuff.'
It was not about growing an economy for Black and Brown folks, and by extension helping America too. Nor was it about producing jobs, or creating a generation of homeowners (though there was federal housing legislation in the later years of the movement), or putting young people on a solid career path, which connected their newly acquired educational rights, with opportunities for mainstream economic attainment.
It was not a prosperity agenda, it was an anti-oppression agenda.