“The civil rights struggle for black Americans is over and has been won.” Although the constitutional rights’ battle has been won, what strategies are there to overcome the problems that are still relevant today in the black community? Do those who lived through times of true discrimination appreciate the progress that has been made more than younger generations who try to equate it with the hardships they face today? Professor of Economics at George Mason University and syndicated columnist, Walter Williams joins Dan and Amy to discuss race relations nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King’s assassination.
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Proft: Dan and Amy...of course memorializing Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday today, this 2018, a couple of months away from the 50th anniversary of his assassination, April 4th, 1968. And so, I can't play some of these clips enough. They're just so great, who talks like this anymore? I wish people did...Martin Luther King, in one of my favorite speeches, the Streetsweeper Speech, he gave here in Chicago at New Covenant Church about...almost exactly a year before his assassination. King (from tape): What I'm saying to you today, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a scrub in the valley. Be be the best little scrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be the sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are. Proft: I mean that...HE writes poetry like Shakespeare. In addition to that, just this other clip, because I think it's relevant to our discussion today. This is the speech he gave at the Mason Temple in Memphis the night before he was assassinated. Rather prophetic speech, this is the "On the Mountaintop" speech...not gonna play that part. The part in the beginning, where he essentially holds America's stated values up against...up for display, and says are we living up...are people living up to these values, as enshrined in our founding documents. Of course the answer was no, but can we do that today? Can we honestly do the mirror test that Martin Luther King put to us in 1968? King (from tape): All we say to America is, "Be true to what you said on paper." If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. Proft: Now we're pleased to be joined by somebody who was there, generally speaking, during that period. He is another great, the great Walter Williams. His Eminence of Economics at George Mason University, Professor Williams, thanks again for joining us, appreciate it. Williams: Hey, good morning! Proft: Good morning. And so, some of your contemporaries opined today, on the occasion of Martin Luther King's birthday. One of them is Shelby Steele, who had a piece in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, and he said this; "The oppression of black people is over with. It's politically incorrect news, but it's true nonetheless. We blacks are today a free people. It's as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise." He goes on to say "We can say that past oppression left us unprepared for freedom, this is certainly true, but this is no consolation. Freedom is just freedom. It's a condition, not an agent of change. It doesn't develop or uplift people who win it, freedom holds us accountable no matter the disadvantages we inherit from the past." Is Shelby Steele right about that? Williams: I think he's absolutely right, and that's something I've said for years, that the civil rights struggle for black Americans in our country is over, and it has been won. That is, at one time black Americans did not have the Constitutional guarantees of others in our country. Today, we do. Now, because the civil rights struggle is over and won, that does not mean there are not MAJOR problems confronting the black community, such as education, crime, and family breakdown. These are major problems, but these are not civil rights problems. That is, they will not be solved by using civil rights strategies. That is...you can sing "We Shall Overcome" all you want, but if blacks are murdering each other, as they are doing in great numbers, in your country...in your city, and getting a fraudulent education, a grossly fraudulent education where the average black 12th grader, he can read and write at the level of the average white 6th or 7th or 8th grader. Now, that's a MAJOR problem...but it's a not a civil rights problem! That is...you take the city of Baltimore, that's a city that's run...that blacks have been mayors, Chief of Police, Superintendent of Schools, most of the members of the City Council, and but yet, this fraudulent education goes on! And that's true in many cities, but it's not civil rights problems. Let me...it doesn't have anything to do with racial discrimination. And so I think that Dr. King's legacy, his battle that he fought, is over and won, but we still have major problems that remain. Jacobson: What do you think Martin Luther King Jr. would think of the "Black Lives Matter" movement and of Antifa? Williams: Well I think that he would look at it with a great disgust, he was a man of peace, he was against the advocation of violence. As a matter of fact, during his life he had an ongoing battle with the Black Muslims, because they were more for using violence and confrontation. So yes, I think he would be against this Antifa and the "Black Lives Matter". Proft: And Bob Woodson, another contemporary, writing in The Hill about how to truly honor the legacy of Dr. King, says among other things; "The noble struggle for equal rights has morphed into a race-grievance industry." I think that's a little bit what you're speaking of. And the sad thing to me is that it afflicts even some of what are actually heroes of the civil right movement, like Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, who has bought into the race grievance industry as Bob Woodson describes it. Williams: That is absolutely right, and if we continue to look at it as racial discrimination problems, the problems are going to remain forever. That is...the fact that 75% of black births are births out of wedlock, which is devastating to the black family structure and black welfare, and if you want to consider that a civil rights problem, then the problem's going to exist forever. You're gonna...the black people in Chicago and many other cities, they're not putting bars in their windows, huddled in their homes at night. They're not afraid of the Ku Klux Klan riding through! And so...but they're afraid of other black people. And if you say "Well gee, we have to do something about the Ku Klux Klan!", well, black people are gonna be in danger forever! Jacobson: Well we all aspire for racial harmony, but when President Trump makes the comments about people coming from "blank-hole countries", does that take us a step back, or where does that leave us? Williams: Well that's...if I were the President, I wouldn't use such language. But the point that he's making about, if you ask the question about people coming to our country illegally...I mean just ask yourself the question...how many Norwegians are coming to our country illegally and crowding up our jails? How many people from Finland? How many people from New Zealand? That's...those people coming to our country are not our problem. People coming from South America and Latin America and Africa and the Middle East, those people are the problems! Now, the President could have used different language, but he surely could have...he was right on the spot when he's talking about the kind of people who we're admitting into our country who are causing us major problems. Now it's not politically correct to talk the way I am, but it's factual, that is I've asked you, how many...and I gave the case of Norwegians, Finns, and New Zealanders, and others, how many of them causing problems, burning our welfare system? Proft: And the point you're getting to, and I think President Trump was trying to get to, is the point about a merit-based immigration system. It's not that we should exclude people from Haiti, or San Salvador, or Sub-Saharan Africa or anywhere else, but the question is what's the standard by which we're admitting people, regardless of their country of origin? And the standard should be merit-based, that they're going to contribute to this country, as opposed to being a detriment to this country in some material way, right? Williams: That is absolutely right. And the problem is made even worse by politicians in our country setting up Sanctuary Cities for people who are in our country illegally. If you ask them, I mean I think someone should ask the mayor of Chicago, would he set up a Sanctuary City for shoplifters, Sanctuary City for car thieves? And somebody's, if they stole a car or they shoplift, you just pay some kind of fine and they be on their way, and we'll take care of them anyway. Proft: Is it your experience, since you've lived through some terrible periods in our country's history in a way that I certainly haven't, is it your experience that once you get beyond the politicians demagoguing identity politics, whether it's based on race or gender, that in terms of the interaction between human beings on a daily basis, things are actually pretty good, racial harmony-wise, but not that you don't have some bad actors, some racists, of course you do, you always will, but things are generally pretty good, much different than they were 50 years ago and there should be some recognition of that, and that people shouldn't be falling for the siren song of, you know, political demagogues who want to score points for themselves by fanning these flames? Williams: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. My next birthday, which will be in March, I'll be 82 years old. And I have lived through...and when I was in the Army I was sent down to Georgia, I lived through a lot of the discrimination. But one of the things that we Americans do not appreciate is that...the great progress that black Americans have made. Now for example, if you just added up the income that black Americans make each year, and just thought of us as an independent country with our own GDP, black Americans would constitute the 16th or 17th richest country on the face of this Earth. There are some black people who make a lot of money, millionaires, many blacks are some of the world's most famous personalities. And it was a black, in the name of Colin Powell, that headed the world's mightiest military. Now, the significance of all this is that in 1865, neither a slave nor a slave owner would have believed that this kind of progress would be possible in a mere one hundred years...or so. And as such, it speaks to the intestinal fortitude of the people, but just as importantly, it speaks to the greatness of a nation. That is, that those kind of achievements that black Americans have made could not have been achieved anywhere else on the face of this Earth. Now, what...now the problem that remains is how can we get the 30 or 35% of black Americans for whom these gains have been elusive, how can we bring them into the mainstream American society? That's the big question, and we won't get at it, we won't reach a solution, by looking at racial discrimination. Proft: He is Walter Williams, a great professor of Economics at George Mason University, also nationally syndicated columnist. The website, again, for your musings, Professor Williams, is? Williams: It's WalterEWilliams.com, WalterEWilliams.com. Proft: Professor Williams, thanks so much for joining us, appreciate it. Williams: And thank you for inviting me. Goodbye.