Forty Acres Are Not Enough: The Future of Civil Rights

The following are notes taken from Clarence B. Jones’s talking points at the US Civil Rights Commission’s event “A New Era: Defining Civil Rights in the 21st Century.”  Mr. Jones is the Scholar in Residence and Visiting Professor at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

Two Precepts Guide Our Approach to Civil Rights

1- The goal of the Civil Rights Movement is to encourage the individual to achieve his true potential.

2- Following the institution of slavery, it may be impossible for the individual to reach his full potential without some assistance from third parties or government institutions.

Society Has Defaulted on Its Promise

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the first to acknowledge that it is impossible for the “post-slavery Negro” to achieve his full potential without assistance from third parties.

Dr. King inspired a movement to write a blank check to post-slavery black Americans, to help them rise up and achieve their full potential.  Society has defaulted on that check.  Where are our forty acres and a mule?

The Next Phase of Civil Rights

It is not enough to open the gates of opportunity.  The “Negro Family,” the centerpiece of the urban ghettos, is crumbling.

A national movement is required to support this family.  Affirmative Action is the basis of this support.  Lingering racial disparities cannot be solved without federal support.  Federal support rests on popular support.  Current measures in place designed to alleviate racial disparities are not enough.

The principle civil rights challenge of the 21st century is to take personal responsibility for the adverse social constructs in place that contribute to the diminished opportunity for African Americans in our society.


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