By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
Has Black America made significant progress politically, socially and economically over the past 50 years? This is not only an important question to pose, it is equally important to answer. And the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, 1965 to 2015 has been a remarkable period in the history of Black America. But make no mistake about it: all of our progress has come as a direct result of a protracted struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
The universal right to self-determination is a fundamental human right recognized by the United Nations. We have too often allowed non-Blacks to mis-define our reality with distorted myths, negative stereotypes and cynicism.
This year will mark the largest Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) with 46 members. In 1965, there were only five African Americans in the Congress. We have come a long way politically in the past 50 years at the federal, state and local level. In addition to representation in the House and Senate, we have served as mayors of big cities, as governors, as lieutenant governors, as speakers of state legislatures, as county commission chairs, as city council chairs, as school board presidents and as national party chairs. Black participation in state legislatures alone has increased five-fold over during past five decades.
Since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Black Power has moved from becoming a chant to a political reality. The late Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) blazed the way as the first Black attorney general of a state and later as the first African American popularly elected to the U.S. Senate. Following suit as governors were Doug Wilder in Virginia and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts.
Jesse L. Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns paved the way for Barack Obama’s successful campaign in 2008 to become the first Black elected president of the United States of America.
On the heels of that success and Blacks voting at a higher percentage than Whites in 2012 for the first time, have come efforts by Republicans to suppress the Black vote. This effort, carried out largely by Republican-dominated state legislatures, is underway as America experiences a dramatic demographic shift.
We are grateful that Sister Jeri Green and others at the U.S. Census Bureau that have assembled the latest social and demographic statistics for Black History Month observance:
• As of July 1, 2012, there are now 44.5 million Black Americans, either alone or in combination with one or more other races, in the U.S, up 1 percent over 2011;
• New York is the state with the largest Black American population with 3.7 million. The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of Black Americans at 51.6 percent, followed by Mississippi at 38 percent. Texas has the highest numeric increase in Black Americans since 2011 (87,000. Cook County, Ill. (Chicago) had the largest Black American population of any county as of 2012 at 1.3 million;
• The percentage of Blacks 25 and older with a high school diploma or higher was 83.2 percent;
• The percentage of African Americans in that same age group with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2012 was 18.7 percent;
• There were 3.7 million Blacks enrolled in college as of 2012, a 28 percent increase over the 2.9 million in 2007;
• The annual median family income of Black households was $33,321 in 20212, compared to the national figure of $55,017;
• The poverty rate for African Americans was 27.2 percent in 2012, compared to 15 percent nationally;
• There were 9.8 million family households in 2013 and among Black households, 45.7 percent contained married couples;
• There was a record 17.8 million Black voter turnout in 2012 , a 1.7 million voter increase of the number of Black Americans who voted in 2008 and
• The record 66.2 percent of Black Americans who voted in the 2012 presidential election was higher than the 64.1 percent of non-Hispanic Whites who voted in 2012.
Yes, we have made progress over the past half-century, but future progress will not happen by osmosis. Rather, it will happen when we become wiser about how we spend more than $1 trillion each year. We will also need to focus on strengthening Black-owned businesses and grow a new generation of committed young entrepreneurs.
To be blunt, Black Americans cannot afford to entertain any ideas of not moving forward to make more progress over the next 50 years. We have come too far to turn back now.
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.