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MLK's Unfinished Legacy
Who's still standing in the schoolhouse door?
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A new CNN poll shows that a majority of black Americans now believe Martin Luther King’s dream has been fulfilled with the election of Barack of Obama:

More than two-thirds of African-Americans believe Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for race relations has been fulfilled, a CNN poll found — a figure up sharply from a survey in early 2008.

Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

The CNN-Opinion Research Corp. survey was released Monday, a federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader and a day before Barack Obama is to be sworn in as the first black U.S. president.

The poll found 69 percent of blacks said King’s vision has been fulfilled in the more than 45 years since his 1963 “I have a dream” speech — roughly double the 34 percent who agreed with that assessment in a similar poll taken last March.

But whites remain less optimistic, the survey found.

“Whites don’t feel the same way — a majority of them say that the country has not yet fulfilled King’s vision,” CNN polling director Keating Holland said. However, the number of whites saying the dream has been fulfilled has also gone up since March, from 35 percent to 46 percent.

In the 1963 speech, delivered to a civil rights rally on the Mall in Washington, King said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Video Watch Obama speak at Lincoln Memorial on Sunday »

“Has that dream been fulfilled? With the election of Barack Obama, two thirds of African-Americans believe it has,” CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said.

“Most blacks and whites went to bed on election night saying, ‘I never thought I’d live to see the day.’ That’s what the nation is celebrating on this King holiday: We have lived to see the day,” Schneider said.

One of the areas of American life where the dream remains unfulfilled is public education. Teachers’ unions and government school protectionists have stood in the schoolhouse door, blocking innovation, competition, and parental choice — leaving minority children and their families to languish in some of the country’s worst schools. Donald Hense, chairman and founder of Friendship Public Charter Schools in D.C., reflects:

April 4, 1968, cast a long shadow in our nation’s history. As we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday today, we are reminded of his legacy in so many ways.

Foremost among these, of course, is the historic election of the nation’s first African-American president tomorrow. But perhaps the most enduring lesson he still teaches us is to believe in the power of education to change our society for the better.


Dr. King never saw violence as a way to end the terrible injustices of segregation, despite the segregationists numerous violent threats and deeds. In the face of danger, he fearlessly educated African-Americans about their constitutional rights. He also educated poor whites that they had nothing to fear from their black brothers and sisters.

Eloquently stating his case in his book, Called to Serve, King wrote: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and … critically. … Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” He understood the critical importance of education in achieving justice.

When Southern schools were segregated, poor black children were ill served by the public education systems they encountered. They lacked access to the job and career opportunities that come with access to higher education. The solution of many African-Americans at the time was the only one available: to move north, including to the District.

Sadly, D.C.’s public education system, like that in many parts of urban America, fell into decline, leaving many families with no alternative to the city’s failing public schools. Fortunately, enough people in the District’s various communities believed in education sufficiently to change the law, allowing public charter schools to set up and provide alternative public education options.

The charter school movement educated the city government about the need for choice as ever-increasing numbers of parents switched to charters. Today, more than one in three D.C. students are educated in public charter schools.

Not including Obama’s own daughters, whose parents were fortunate enough to have the choice to put their own children in one of the city’s most elite private schools.

School choice is a civil rights issue, as Ken Blackwell and Sol Stern have eloquently noted.

MLK’s legacy is not yet complete.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Education