by The Opportunity Agenda, Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 05:52:49 AM EST
In the days just before and after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 80th birthday, I had the opportunity to visit two places that are integral to his modern day legacy: Washington, DC and the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. As I witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president, I thought of Dr. King's admonition, in his 1963 I Have a Dream Speech, that "we cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote." Despite some continuing problems at the ballot box, this was an election about which Dr. King could be truly satisfied; African Americans turned out in record numbers to elect the nation's first African-American president.
In the same speech, Dr. King reminded the nation that "when the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the `unalienable Rights' of `Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'"
For anyone who's visited the Gulf Coast recently, it is obvious that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as the people of the Lower Ninth Ward--overwhelmingly poor and African-American--are concerned. The world witnessed in 2005 how our government left the region's people to drown in their homes and suffer unspeakable conditions in the New Orleans Convention Center and Superdome. More than three years later, that abandonment continues.