Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am proud to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy today by joining my friends in the 10-mile protest walk to demand fairness and justice for airport workers. Our nation has come so far since 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated, but I know we can do better to achieve The Dream, and that is why I keep marching on.
On the very last airing of my dear friend’s radio show “Dialogue with Dinkins” this week, David and I reminisced about the great times when we worked to keep Dr. King’s Dream alive as members of ‘The Gang of Four’– David Dinkins, Basil Paterson, Percy Sutton, and me. It was the 1960s and the whole country was changing. Inspired by Dr. King, Jr.’s dedication to service, justice, and equality in the Civil Rights Movement, our Gang took action to pave the path in which anybody, regardless of race, could not only vote, but also hold any public office in the nation.
The Struggle had made it possible for us to break down barriers and attain political offices once viewed as beyond the realm of possibility for minorities. Basil started out as a New York state senator, while Percy, David, and I began our journey in the New York State Assembly. Soon afterward, Basil was appointed as deputy mayor of New York City and then became secretary of state of New York state; I was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives; Percy was elected Manhattan borough president and then became a serious candidate for mayor of New York City; and David made history as the first black mayor of New York City in 1990.
As minority candidates, the path each one of us walked was particularly tough. Few thought that the Gang of Four, also known as the Harlem Clubhouse, were up to the job. But we overcame great prejudice and paved the road to politics in which race was less a factor than talent.
Since then, I am proud that Blacks have made enormous strides of progress reaching high places in every sector of our society, including the Highest Office in the Nation held by President Barack Obama. However, there is still much work to be done to build a society that is closer to Dr. King’s vision of equality for all.
In almost every economic category, Blacks have made significant gains, but not by enough. For example, while the Black poverty rate dropped from more than 40 percent in the 1960s to about 27 percent today, this number is still unacceptable. Black family income is just two-thirds of the median for all Americans. Black unemployment remains twice the level of white unemployment, similar to where it was in 1965. In 1964, just 25 percent of Blacks above age 25 had high school diplomas; today, the number is 85 percent. The percentage of Blacks with a college degree jumped from 4 percent in 1964 to more than 21 percent today; yet the rate for whites is 34 percent.
Clearly, there is much room for improvement. I applaud President Obama for launching his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative that is aimed to empower our youth to achieve success. Dr. King envisioned a society without prejudice and poverty and I’m fighting in Congress to make it a reality by working to close the widening gap between the rich and the poor, by raising the federal minimum wage, improving healthcare, extending unemployment insurance, providing more educational opportunities, and lifting people out of poverty with the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Though our dear friend Percy sadly passed away in 2009, David, Basil, and I still have so much fire in us to inspire the new generations toward achieving the Dream that Dr. King instilled upon us when we were younger.
We are as passionate about building the ladders of opportunity for everyone to succeed — not only for Blacks, but for every person in America regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. The spirit of Dr. King and The Gang of Four lives on, and I am as fired up as ever.
Charles Rangel represents New York’s 13th Congressional District.