Then: There were almost no blacks in local governments, except for the janitors.
Now: We have dozens of black mayors and lots of immigrant janitors, as many native-born Americans pass over entry-level jobs.
Today: We see politicians of both parties offering various versions of a new war on poverty.
Then: Martin Luther King competed with the “black power” movement.
Now: Bill Cosby’s argument for improved black behavior competes with the post-industrialists who blame structural changes in the economy.
In fact, both sides are right. The economy has changed, but too many black Americans also have failed or been unable to take advantage of opportunities that the civil rights movement opened up.
The past teaches us government can help open opportunities for the poor to receive jobs, education and training. But we also need to find ways at the local and community level to calm the quiet riots of crime and poverty that still keep us awake at night, nervous about the past and fearful of the future.
After all, as Whitney Young, another great black leader of the 1960s put it, we may have come here on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.
Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.
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