How far have we come?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 18, 2003

How far have we come toward realizing the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? That was the question posed to Miss-Lou residents in recent days. Their response? We’ve come a long way &045; but we still have far to go, both as a society and as individuals.

&uot;I’m not saying it’s a utopian situation,&uot; said Adams County Justice Court Judge Mary Toles. &uot;But when you stop to look at where we were in 1964 and where we are in the year 2003, in terms of the gains we’ve made, I think (King) would be very pleased with that.&uot;

Black Americans are voting and holding public office in greater numbers than before and have access to better educational opportunities. As a result of both gains, more black people are holding office and are better prepared to lead once they get there, Toles said.

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&uot;We have (black) people making decisions in federal government at the top level,&uot; she said.

Katie Ruth Moore, an organizer of Natchez’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, said even equal access to public facilities is something that had to be fought for in King’s day.

&uot;Things have been integrated, such as the schools and even restaurants,&uot; Moore said.

She added that, largely as a result of King and his contemporaries, more people have access to better job opportunities. &uot;There used to be jobs only whites could get,&uot; she said.

But Thelma Williams, owner of the Mostly African Market and director of Project Southern Cross, believes progress toward realizing King’s dream has been backsliding somewhat.

&uot;I think Dr. King would be dismayed if he was around today,&uot; Williams said. &uot;Even with where we’ve come from, we’ve done some serious slipping back into old habits.&uot;

Williams cited the movement of the federal government away from affirmative action and Sen. Trent Lott’s recent comments about Sen. Strom Thurmond as indictators that progress is slipping.

To progress, leaders at all levels must lead the way, and citizens must be willing to come together to solve society’s problems, Williams said.

&uot;There’s no problem we cannot solve, but we can’t unless we are all willing to come to the table,&uot; she said.

Individuals must also examine their own attitudes about each other in order for change to be made. Too often, people are judged by skin color and not by the contributions they’ve made, Toles said.

&uot;He (King) wanted people to be measured by the content of their character, not the color of their skin,&uot; Toles said. &uot;But we’re still not a colorblind society. Many laws are on the books, but you cannot legislate how people feel.&uot;

The ways in which people are judged by race &045; and even other criteria, such as religion or cultural differences &045; are sometimes very subtle, said Darryl Grennell, vice president of the Adams County Board of Supervisors.

&uot;Even in just natural conversations, people will say ‘this white person’ or ‘this black person’ to describe someone,&uot; Grennell said.

Until such descriptions are no longer seen as necessary, King’s dream still waits to be realized, he said, adding that &uot;the bottom line is, we’re all humans.&uot;

One particular institution in which race is still keenly felt is the church, Moore said.

&uot;We need to work together and live together, but one of the main things is that we need to worship together,&uot; Moore said. &uot;We need to break down the walls that keep us apart.&uot;

King also advocated nonviolence in addition to racial equality and opportunity. However, judging from current conflicts worldwide, we still have a long way to go toward peace, said Ralph Jennings of Ferriday.

&uot;Martin Luther King was trying to teach people how to have different interests without having to destroy each other,&uot; Jennings said. &uot;We’re still working to realize living in harmony and peace.

&uot;We haven’t moved too far toward that (goal), and it might not be a realistic dream. Š But maybe if we could be led to contemplate how we treat each other, it could happen.&uot;