July 24th, 2008
04:12 PM ET

Martin Luther King III on “Black in America”

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET

We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Martin Luther King, III

One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, my father gave arguably the most celebrated of his speeches, “I Have a Dream.” On that day, a gathering of strangers a quarter of a million strong came to hear what it meant to be Black in America. Using his brush of eloquence, he painted the picture of where the typical Black in America lived: On a lonely “island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

Like 1963’s March on Washington, CNN’s documentary, Black in America, is a gathering of sorts. Exponentially greater in numbers and certainly less familiar with each other, its viewers gathered to see vignettes that dramatize the continuing shameful condition that my father spoke of nearly 40 days short of 40 years ago. The condition he spoke of then demonstrated that American Blacks were not free.

One hundred and forty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the Black in America documentary demonstrates vividly that the lives of too many African-Americans are still crippled by the shackles of economic segregation, the chains of educational discrimination, the manacles of medial apartheid, and the fetters of a criminal justice system that feeds on African-Americans, mostly male. In short, 140 years after that historic promissory note as my father referred to it, too many who are Black in America still inhabit that lonely island of poverty.

In part one, there is a certain unremarkable tenor of the documentary showing that to be Black in America is to be fully American. What I mean is that the stories told could be those of any racial or ethnic group, with the many challenges and opportunities we Americans encounter as we eke out a life in the template of the American Dream. What is remarkable, of course, are the disproportionate gatherings of African-Americans on the high end of the challenges and the low end of the opportunities, which makes their chances as a group less likely to realize that dream.

Yes, we have made great strides; a third of Blacks in America have an average income of $50,000, more Blacks in America today are educated than ever before with undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees. Black men and women are among those who lead in the fields of education, health, business, finance and the sciences. Unfortunately, there is another third of Blacks in America who lead the nation as a group in such areas as school drop outs, the imprisoned, the unemployed, and those infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

Long on symptoms and short on solutions, the documentary gives ample examples of the ravages of a disease acquired at the birth of our nation. But, perhaps, that is the way it should be. The task for all Americans, no matter what race or color, is to join hands and rise up to live out the true meaning of our creed. That call is both a challenge and an opportunity for all Americans. If we are to truly become one nation with liberty and justice for all, then living out the true meaning of our creed means doing our part to once and for all eliminate the vestiges of racism and the islands of poverty that isolate too many Americans, no matter their color or ethnic background.

I am looking forward to the second part of Black in America and I hope to write further on how Americans from all walks of life can join hands together and do their part to Realize the Dream.

Filed under: Black in America • Martin Luther King III • T1
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Pat

    Thank you Mr. King, I enjoyed reading your comments. Your father was an extrordinary man, God's greatest blessing to America and the World. He will forever remain one of the Greatest Men of our times.

    I enjoyed the series.Great Job Solodad! It was truly insightful. I pray that America will begin to rise above racism and embrace equality for all. Many Nations have a history of racism in one form or another, but most have chosen to forgive, forget and move one to a brighter future. I pray America will do the same. The past has ruled the hearts of Americans for way too long. It is time for Americans to Realize the Dream and honour your Father for the great strides and sacrifices he made on behalf of all Americans. God Bless.

    July 25, 2008 at 8:11 am |
  2. Ms.Winfrey

    The disproportionate sentencing of Blacks versus their White counterparts committing the same crimes not only can be equated to the underlining discrimination that still exists today, but is also associated with ones financial status. In general terms, a defendant who can afford an attorney and/or bail is allowed the opportunity to wear a suit to court completely groomed, while poor Black men are dragged into court shackled, in jailhouse jumpsuits looking like a criminal, irregardless of what their crime(s) may or may not be. As I said, the sentences speak for themselves

    July 25, 2008 at 2:46 am |
  3. Ms.Winfrey

    Though the documentary on Black In America promised to provide a view for ALL Americans, to see what it's like to be Black in America, I was quite disappointed that much of the focus still turned to the standard stereotypes displayed on many other media events. Depicting Blacks from one extreme (drug dealers, unwed mothers, absent fathers) to the wealthy, successful business owners are the exceptions and not the rule in the everyday lives of African Americans. Most of us are your basic hard working, intelligent individuals who have never experienced any "gun play" nor do we walk into the big house on the hill, with the Mercedes in the garage. Also, with reference to the disappearance and/or unavailability of the Black man, in addition to the problems with incarceration and inabilities to obtain gainful employment, the series neglected to mention a major factor of the successful, available, Black man regularly going outside of the race when choosing a mate and/or partner, further "stacking the chips" against the Black woman.

    July 25, 2008 at 2:30 am |
  4. Shay

    I am so proud to see people think like me. Slavery is th last thing that comes to mind when I see a black man abandon his family, a black woman rolling her eyes at an interracial couple, or a young black child emulating what he or she sees in a rap video. But what's sad is despite all the strides made by black people, america still see us as statistics, and stereotypes. We as a culture need to take an far more aggressive initiative in changing our image. But sadly, with this election in particular, we are being pushed back into the pre-emmancipation era. Now we are arragant and proud because we are educated; we are statistics if we have children and no husband, despite our educational degree(s) and careers, we are even beneath other black people if we are raised differently, or have a darker hue. It's time for a change. We need to move faster before we revert back to slavery, stop looking for someone to lift us up, lift ourselves up and bring another person with you. We definately need to follow the serenity prayer and move on to the important issues.

    July 25, 2008 at 12:57 am |
  5. Dionne

    My concern with my beautiful black community is "yes the odds were stacked against us in the beginning, but we can change this." Instead of accepting such statistics as "One in three black males will end up in prison," we should focus on beating the statistic. We should not teach our children that such statistics are their futures; since they only are if we believe in it. But we should teach our children how to overcome the statistic. Let's educate our children, love our children as well as ourselves. Let's embrace those who are less fortunate by educating them on ways to attain positive success. Let's be overcomers, not victims or survivors.

    July 25, 2008 at 12:44 am |
  6. ladybmore

    To be fair pull statics against black drug deal and white drug dealers to compare thier time for a crime. Where the black small dealers who only can afford a small qaunity get more time and the whites who buy it huge quanity gets less time or a slap on the wrist. You look at the blacks who were locked up for minor theift charge, and what i mean by minor is under 50,000 dollars. But you have white men who commit crimes for large sums of money ,That black can't even dream of having and they get less time or reduced bails or can get bail posted for them. The black men turn to fast drug money to survive they get caught up in voilence and most women don't want to get caught in the game. So if you're pregnant by a black man and you want something better. You raise that child best as you can, but only thing is that, when that child grows up, You either change your enviroment or relocatrd away from him and marriage is not the answer when you don't see a change how you live.

    July 25, 2008 at 12:16 am |
  7. Vaughn

    Black on black crime has been devasting to America. From 1976 to 2004 there were 270,000 blacks who died from violence. These are figures from the US Dept of Justice. How can we accept this on a daily basis? As a retired Army soldier, this is the war we need to win. This our daily Iraq. America please wake up!

    Elk Grove, California

    July 24, 2008 at 11:55 pm |
  8. Courtney C

    It's a little troubling to hear that we are not beyond skin color! Black America has to be honest about what it is we value. I watched reports about slavery having an affect on certian aspects of our cutlure. My question is , how long are we as culture going accept slavery or the lack of money as a reason behind the injustice that we do to our own? For example the structure of the black family. It makes no sense for black man to disappear from their child life. It appauling to hear that 60% of children who come from black homes lack a father. Slavery can not dictate all the reasons for why a person chooses to leave a child's life completely. Nor does all of society. It is a choice made by that indivdual. No different then the choice to stay.

    July 24, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  9. mary register

    why do we "hate blacks" because of the injustices their ancertes suffered

    July 24, 2008 at 10:30 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    I admired your father very much; his speeches were wonderful and he represented the best in us all. It was a tragedy for all of America when he was killed. His words still resonate with us today and are still just as applicable as they were in the early 1960s. There is still a lot to do to accomplish his dream – I hope that we can accomplish what he envisioned because if we do it will be a better country for all people. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 24, 2008 at 9:50 pm |
  11. Larry

    Why does the King family not pursue slander & libel charges against Theodore Pappas Hallberg?

    July 24, 2008 at 9:28 pm |
  12. Larry

    Why do we continue to throw the white side of Barack Obama's heritage that was empowered to him by his mom and grandparents; under the bus?

    July 24, 2008 at 8:53 pm |
  13. Cynthia

    Your father was an exemplary man. If only the world had more men like him what a wonderful world this would be. I am also looking forward the next part of the special and hope than CNN will do more.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:43 pm |
  14. phil Texas

    I thank Dr. King for all the work he did in the past, it helped all people in the world.

    BUT, I hate all the seperation we still have, like NAACP,Black in America shows, Negro college fund, Miss Black America etc,etc,

    we are all equal in Gods eye

    July 24, 2008 at 6:39 pm |
  15. Bev

    It pains me to see that America is still on the black/white line. In 2008, my children still have to worry about the color of their skin. I only hope that once my 7 year old son becomes a young man who I have instilled in him to be a gentleman and doing what is right.
    Like Mr. Dyson, I too have a brother who is in the penal system. Our family is on the spectrum where some are doing well ( real estate, nurse, firefighter, military) and others are not (some by choice, some by society).
    Let's hope that Senator Obama will become our catalyst for Change in America!

    July 24, 2008 at 6:30 pm |
  16. Larry

    You will not receive one post that would present you with an argument to your commentary; why, you may ask? Don't want to be called racist by playing the devil's advocate in a debate with your legacy.

    July 24, 2008 at 5:44 pm |
  17. Melinda

    Thank you for your commentary. It is much appreciated. I loved the documentary last night.

    July 24, 2008 at 5:20 pm |
  18. Barbara

    Not only does the Black community owe alot to Dr. King and others
    like him but so do so many other groups. I am a white female who
    because of the civil rights movement was given an opportunity to go
    where women in the past were not able to go. When I became an
    adult I was able to compete for a decent job with good pay and benefits that my mother's generation for the most part could only dream about. Civil rights for Blacks opened the doors to all the
    other discriminations that were present, I truly feel that women,
    other minorities, the handicapped have all benefited because one
    man had a dream to end the injustice that was practiced on his

    July 24, 2008 at 5:10 pm |
  19. Tommy

    Dr. King was awesome. He is the best example of how to make a difference in this world. Not by complaining. Not by acting like a victim. Not by blaming others. He made change in a proactive way. He brought the fight, not with guns and knives, but with feet.

    July 24, 2008 at 4:21 pm |