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What King Would See Today

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By Colbert I. King
Saturday, April 5, 2008

April 4, 1968, was a day when black people didn't feel much like singing "God Bless America." It was an ugly time made worse by a sense of despair too deep for words. Somebody had killed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"A riot is at bottom," King said, "the language of the unheard."

Within hours of the crushing news, anger replaced hopelessness, and with anger came looting, a paroxysm of self-destructiveness and inner cities going up in smoke.

In Memphis, the night before his assassination, King told a rally at Mason Temple that God had allowed him to go up to the mountain.

"And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

Forty years later, we're not there yet.

To be sure, the day is gone, as King preached in Memphis, when black people would go around "scratching where they didn't itch and laughing when they were not tickled."

Our backs are straighter now. A lot of us mean business.

But "we, as a people" are not in the same space.

This week my wife, Gwen, and I attended a luncheon at Howard University that was held in a health sciences library named after retired African American representative Louis Stokes (D-Ohio). The dining area was filled with more than 70 men and women at the top of their professions: lawyers, doctors, theologians, educators, former military officers, a former mayor, a university president and the chairman of the board of one of the world's largest media companies.

A large number of PhDs -- a testament to academic achievement -- were there. With one or two exceptions, all present were African American.

King would have been pleased.

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