This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King’s message of peace is what we remember and celebrate, but his words were delivered in a time of violence, as the Washington Post editorial board reminds us: this year also marks half a century since the Birmingham church bombing.
While civil rights for racial minorities were eventually established peacefully, by legislation, King’s legacy is far from settled. South Carolina didn’t recognize MLK Jr. Day as an official state holiday until 2000, the last state to do so. More worryingly, the Supreme Court will hear Shelby County v. Holder in February. This will give the Court’s conservative majority the chance to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a pillar of American civil rights.
Section 5 is crucial. As described in a Reuters op-ed, it “requires that jurisdictions with a record of voting transgressions […] must obtain pre-clearance for any change in election rules from either the Justice Department or a three-judge court in Washington, D.C. This requirement grew out of the inability of litigation to address many jurisdictions’ determined efforts to prevent African-Americans from voting.” Then as now, making laws strong enough to overcome the forces of prejudice is an ongoing battle.
King was more than a champion of franchise; he also fought for the right to work. In 1962, he wrote, “The coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined.”
The struggle of the “forces of labor” continues in the courts. In May, black pilots sued United Airlines for discriminating against employees of their race in promotion decisions. A suit filed in New Jersey in August alleges that Dunkin’ Donuts stacks the deck against its nonwhite franchisees by “giving white franchise developers prime pastry locations, while minorities are left with ‘economically disadvantaged or marginal areas.'” The suit claims that African Americans own only 50 of the chain’s 7,000 locations.
That’s less than one percent black ownership—in a country where blacks made up 13 percent of the population in 2011. Those who doubt the veracity of discrimination claims need only examine statistics like these—or the actual words of top executives at companies like Wet Seal. The retailer was sued in July for discriminating against African Americans. The New York Times reported the hard evidence of prejudice included in the lawsuit: “a March 2009 e-mail sent by the company’s then senior vice president for store operations to lower-level managers after she had inspected several stores. The email said, ‘African American dominate — huge issue.'”
One recent case concluded with a measure of justice. A retired Syracuse, New York police officer who sued the city for discrimination was awarded a $205,000 settlement in October. She alleged that “her supervisor banned her and other female officers from talking or laughing on the job, and denied her the right to the same working conditions as white male officers.”
Much of our work at The Harman Firm—championing the individual minority worker and the rights of workers subject to discrimination—would not be possible without the pioneering and courageous work of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 inspired by him. As such, we honor Dr. King by closing our offices today in commemoration of his immeasurable contributions to social justice. However, The Harman Firm welcomes inquiries at any time via email.
Check out Buzzfeed for a great collection of lesser-known quotes by Dr. King, including this one:
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”