Since MLK …

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


For this post, I am not writing an essay or anything that looks like a traditional article. Instead, I have been thinking a lot about how the United States has changed since the nearly half a century, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

I have been sitting around meditating on the idea that my whole lifetime, I have lived in an America that was transformed by Dr. King.  Sadly, I believe that his kind of transformative and moral leadership is not possible today for a number of complex reasons I cannot go into here. Still, I have been wondering how things have changed, big and small, and I will share with you some of the things I discovered (and where I found the information). Unfortunately, most of the information I have uncovered is bleak, and rather depressing and points to a society that has gone wrong in many ways. While looking through some of the information I have collected, keep in mind that race, education, prosperity, wealth, social status … all these are labels that intersect upon real people and impact their lives.

All this while wondering, “Is this the America that MLK was envisioning in his ‘Dream’”?

1968 1980 1990 1999 2009
Cost of new home 26,600 76,400 149,800 131,750 173,100
Median household income 7,743 17,710 29,943 40,810 51,190
Ounce of gold/ average 39.31 615 383.59 278.98 972.35
Gallon of regular gas 0.34 1.25 1.16 1.3 2.56
Dozen eggs 0.53 0.91 1 0.89 1.94
Gallon of milk 1.07 2.16 2.78 2.88 3.05
Minimum hourly wage 1.6 3.1 3.8 5.15 7.25


In 1971 there were fewer than 200,000 inmates in our state and federal prisons. By the end of 1996 we were approaching 1.2 million. The prison population, in short, has nearly sextupled in the course of twenty-five years. Adding in local jails brings the total to nearly 1.7 million. To put the figure of 1.7 million into perspective, consider that it is roughly equal to the population of Houston Texas, the fourth-largest city in the nation, and more than twice that of San Francisco.

incarc rate by race & gender - web

Since the early 1970s the prison and jail population in the United States has increased at an unprecedented rate. The more than 500% rise in the number of people incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails has resulted in a total of 2.2 million people behind bars.


This growth has been accompanied by an increasingly disproportionate racial composition, with particularly high rates of incarceration for African Americans, who now constitute 900,000 of the total 2.2 million incarcerated population.


1.4 million African American men, or 13 percent of the black adult male population have lost the right to vote due to their involvement in the criminal justice system. In the states with the most restrictive voting laws, 40 percent of African American men are likely to be permanently disenfranchised.

At the end of 2000, 791,600 black men were behind bars and 603,032 were enrolled in colleges or universities. By contrast, in 1980 — before the prison boom — black men in college outnumbered black men behind bars by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, the study found.


There is a lot of information here gathered from various sources around the web. This is the same information that our students have access to every day, but it begs the question, “what does it all mean”? To answer that, you need discussions, further research, first person accounts, a hefty reading list, some videos, debates and so on. In other words, a school with teachers.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you did something productive with your MLK day.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.