MLK Day: It’s Time for a Second Emancipation Proclamation

Segregation is as much of a problem for the U.S. as it was 40 years ago. Is it time to reprise Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision?

  • Share
  • Read Later
AFP / Getty Images

U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963

As we prepare to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., we should be cautious about congratulating ourselves for having overcome segregation and the resultant inequality against which King is best known for fighting. Indeed, the problems of racial segregation in housing and education are no less urgent than they were 40 years ago.

(MORE: Michelle Alexander on the Myth of Desegregation)

study published this past May in the American Sociological Review shows that today, blacks and whites overwhelmingly live in neighborhoods with members of their own race. Though they do so by choice, this is still problematic because, as a 2011 study from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found, in the cities with such high levels of racial segregation, blacks and Latinos live far shorter lives than whites and are much more prone to long-term health problems, like asthma, due to higher pollution levels.

The picture is no brighter in public schools, as a report issued in September by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA shows. It found that school segregation for blacks, Latinos and poor students has returned to levels we haven’t seen since the 1970s. And we know from 30 years’ worth of research that test scores and college-level success are far lower for students who attend racially segregated schools. Nonetheless, in our present moment, 60% to 80% of districts in major metropolitan areas like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Dallas have schools that are overwhelmingly segregated by race.

A recent article in the New York Times looking at racial segregation in the gifted-and-talented program in New York City makes the consequences for such levels of segregation in education clear. The Times found that “accelerated classrooms serve as pipelines to the city’s highest-achievement middle schools and high schools, creating a cycle in which students who start out ahead get even further advantages from the city’s schools.”

(MORE: In the Name of King)

This type of inequality does not have to last if we have the will to eradicate it. Fifty years ago, on the 100th anniversary of the original Emancipation Proclamation, King asked President Kennedy to sign a second proclamation. King wanted the President to use the full power of his office to eliminate all forms of segregation and make discrimination illegal. He also wanted the government to oppose any efforts to allow the country to re-segregate by race. As King said at a June 1961 press conference about his proposal, “Just as Abraham Lincoln had the vision to see almost 100 years ago that this nation could not exist half-free, the present administration must have the insight to see that today the nation cannot exist half-segregated and half-free.”

President Kennedy considered it but ultimately declined to sign such an Executive Order. But King’s sentiment is no less true for us today. This year, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we should reconsider King’s idea of a second proclamation. In it, we could offer incentives to those willing to find creative solutions for breaking a cycle of racial segregation in housing and especially education that has gone on for far too long. If we are successful, we would complete the work to which King dedicated his life.

PHOTOS: Martin Luther King Jr. in His Own Words


I agree dumb article tat does not consider the manyfactors that contribute to poor academic performance in urban black/minority neighborhoods.


This is one of the stupidest articles I've read in a while.  What is this author's roadmap for this supposed "emancipation proclamation"?

In other words, this is cheap and hollow rhetoric which offers no solutions.


I don't normally comment on articles like this but I feel compelled to do so. Allow me to label myself because the article and most of your comments have done so already; I'm "black". I'm somewhat offended because most of your comments allude to the fact that we (blacks/Afreican Americans) are uneducated, violent and bring negativity to communities across America. The fact is, today's segregation is more about class than all making comments on this article would not want to live near a trailer park would you? Your economic status dictates the type of community you live in; not your race. Is this tied to education? Yes....Race, not so much. Is there an educational gap in America? Yes....@bryanfred1, MLK would not IMO feel despondent today, he would feel that we have come a very long way and there is much work to be done. MLK would probably say to the people commenting on this article to judge me based on my character, not the color of my skin.


CLEARLY it is the natural tendency of humans to segregate according to race and social class.  Although I have no problem socializing with blacks and latinos, and in fact have a very close black friend, I am (generally speaking) more comfortable with blue-collar white people, similar to those I grew up around.  And it isn't just race, it's economic status too: I am not as comfortable with very "upper-crust" people as I am with the factory workers and car mechanics that I know and love.  Quit blaming everyone else that black people tend to gravitate toward each other and, for some reason, bring violence and neglect with them.  MLK and Malcolm X asked for no sympathy, only action.  Follow their lead, would you?


Yes Dr King would be disappointed because the Black community has so easily connected to the worst of the majority community and the self help of his generation(time)has disappeared. If we were there during the movement we KNOW that DR.KING did not start,conceive of the various movements  The PEOPLE started The actions usually the Young altho not always and then he was invited in to be their "spokesperson". Rosa Parks and the people of Montgomery did not wait for Dr. King to lead,conceive of the bus boycott ,they sat down on the bus Mrs. Parks,and the community rallied around her and then Dr. King joined , The lunch counter sit-ins started in Wilmington ,N.C. were begun by teenaged students adults later joined and then Dr. King. @JesseLyon  what you are talking about is the black community, not African or Black Culture ,the enslavers eliminated the African or Black Culture and the "{Negro" became a copy of white culture. Jesse you would have to have a discussion with a Black or African nationalist so you could begin to understand what African or Black culture is and how it differs from Euro culture.  But you are correct in the symptoms who wants to live with the mores of todays Black community I won't argue with you the introduction of those evil activities ,they are there and need to be eradicated.


@RichardMann define "the black community"......this is about "Class" not race.

bryanfred1 1 Like

I think MLK would be despondent if he saw the state of the African American community today.  By many measures it is worse off than when he was alive - high school graduation rates, family cohesiveness, crime rates, incarceration rates have all gotten worse.  All the government programs on the planet can't make people do things they don't want to do. 

JesseLyon 1 Like

So we should take "voluntary" segregation and make this illegal? So we should force people to live where they don't want to? Sounds socialist to me. Or should we ferry inner city kids to the suburbs so they can drive up the crime rate while trying to get an diploma. Honestly, why dont you just change your culture, starting with your own household rather than try to drag other people down to your level. Your culture promotes murder, rape and drug dealing and you wonder why there is so much black on black crime. Quit whining and emulate MLK and DO SOMETHING TO BETTER YOURSELF instead of waiting for the government to give you a handout.

Belisarius86 1 Like

People will fight tooth-and-nail against this because we don't want to effectively sacrifice our children by exposing them to toxic, corrupting cultures that don't value education. 

If the author had her way and the state forced integration, perhaps the dilution of the "bad" students would result in blacks and Latinos performing slightly better, but white and Asian children would decline much more.

The first step that needs to be taken is for black and Latino communities to change their cultures and start valuing education more. That alone would begin to shrink the educational gap in and of itself, and make the other measures (school funding equalization and integration) have an actual chance of succeeding.


I'm not sure you can compare the two communities.  Many of the educational problems facing Latinos are language-oriented.  If your parents don't speak English then it's hard to keep up.  Studies show that a child who can't read well by 4th grade will begin to fall behind because that's when you stop learning to read and start reading to learn.  Every other subject relies on mastery of English.  There is a pretty well-established trajectory for the families of non-skilled Spanish-speaking immigrants - 1st generation typically works manual labor roles; 2nd graduates high school and possibly college, improving earnings opportunities over their parents, and by the 3rd generation are effectively integrated into the middle class from an eduation and professional perspective.  I don't know that there's much to be done about that other than push reading and language skills early and often.  Regardless, I think this is reflective of the opportunity available in this country.



That's fair enough. I believe I've read before that the education gap among Latinos persists after several generations, but I cannot provide a source at the moment.

MikeMueller 2 Like

If by equality you mean elevating yourself to someone else's level, then go for it.If it means dragging someone else down to your level, then I hope the inequality persists.

shadow.echelon 1 Like

She said it herself in the artice ... races do this BY CHOICE. So you want to make another choice "illegal" with another executive order. Go figure

JoeSloan 3 Like

African Americans have listened to MLK, but done little themselves to follow.  MLK was an activist.  His call was for African Americans to do for themselves, not demand reparations and play the victim.

We have widespread reverse discrimination in America.  WASP are tired of saying "sorry".  It's been 100 years.  Let's get on with it, shall we?