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Better Day Coming: Civil Rights in America in the 20th Century

By Professor Adam Fairclough
Race relations in America today

Racial tensions and problems remain. Poverty, unemployment, family breakdown, and continuing segregation have bred feelings of despair among a younger generation. A million blacks are in jail - half the total prison population. Some young members of black society turn to crime; many turn to drugs. Just as in the 1960s, police brutality - as vividly demonstrated by the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992 - still sometimes sparks rioting. After 1970, however, white Americans became tired of hearing about the complaints of black Americans.

Despite these disappointments, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s achieved some impressive results. In the South, blacks gained the right to vote, and they now routinely elect mayors and Congressmen. Schools are no longer segregated by law. Toilets and waiting-room are no longer disfigured by 'white' and 'coloured' signs. Everywhere, blacks have gained access to jobs that were previously closed to them; the black middle-class has grown in size and wealth, and blacks have reached positions of power and influence that would have been unthinkable 40 years ago.

Colin Powell
US Secretary of State, Colin Powell 
Clarence Thomas sits on the Supreme Court; Colin Powell is Secretary of State; media superstar Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire. It is important to remember, though, that Martin Luther King's dream was never about creating a black élite: he was more interested in curing poverty and injustice - whatever the colour of the person affected. Judged by that goal, America still has a long way to go.

Published: 2003-04-01



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