Hard to imagine, but Martin Luther King Jr. might well still be alive today if his jaw hadn’t caught James Earl Ray’s bullet on that hotel balcony in Memphis all those years ago.
Matter of fact, he would be only 84 — younger, say, than Jimmy Carter or John Dingell or a number of elder statesmen.
Last weekend, they made a big fuss over the anniversary of his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” which he actually gave exactly 50 years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963.
Nobody knows what King thought the world would be like a half-century later. Did he even imagine there could be a black president? That was a day when Negroes, as they then called themselves, could get lynched for trying to register to vote.
Would he have been pleasantly stunned that, in 2013, the announcement of a new black Fortune 500 CEO, or big university president, wouldn’t even rate a yawn?
Would he be more startled at that — or at the fact that vast numbers of other blacks had, in 2013, fallen off the edge of society into the world of crack cocaine, crime and gangs.
Would Martin Luther King have expected a nation that — twice — elected a black president also would incarcerate far more blacks in state and federal prisons than in his time?
We don’t know; we can’t know, any more than we know how he would have felt about extending marriage and the full range of civil rights protections to gay people.
We can, though, say with certainty that one major part of his dream failed: Blacks have, indeed, made vast strides, but integration has failed.
Not failed in the workplace; integration has succeeded there. Integration hasn’t failed in our colleges and universities, either. Sports are as fully integrated as anything in America can be.
But blacks and whites don’t, and won’t, live together.
Yes, I know that doesn’t apply to young urban pioneers in certain hip sectors of Midtown. I know things are different in Ann Arbor and in other hothouse environments.
But not out there where most people live. As writer and attorney Desiree Cooper once told me, “Integration is the time between the day the first black family arrives and the last white one leaves.” That may be a little exaggerated … but not much.
Consider the city of Southfield, which sits on the Detroit-Oakland County border and stretches to 13 Mile Road. Southfield was less than 1 percent black in 1970. That inched up to 9 percent in 1980. Then it went to 29 percent black in 1990; 54 percent in 2000; and 70 percent in 2010.
That figure might have been higher, except that many of the remaining whites are Orthodox Jews who do not drive on the Sabbath and prefer to walk to their houses of prayer. Oak Park was traditionally a heavily Jewish community in the 1950s and ’60s. By 2000, it was 47 percent white; 46 percent black. Ten years later, blacks were 57 percent; whites only 37 percent.
Huntington Woods, the small suburb where I live, historically has never had much of a black population; it hovered around 1 percent in each of the last two censuses.
Yet there are mostly unspoken worries that this is changing. There has been an uptick in burglaries and thefts from cars and of cars in “the woods” as residents call it. Nobody I know is saying anything racial … but there are whispers.
Is the “neighborhood changing?”
Twenty years ago, political scientist Andrew Hacker published a blockbuster book called Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal. He noted in it studies had found that “whites begin to move out when the black population reaches somewhere between 10 and 20 percent.”
Nothing I have seen since indicates this has changed. “I have a dream that one day … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and girls as sisters and brothers,” King said on that August day.
That hasn’t happened, if he meant as neighbors. Ironically, however, his dream may be literally coming true: More and more, black and white children are brothers and sisters. Intermarriage rates have more than doubled since 1980.
The vast majority of Americans disapproved of blacks marrying whites in 1963; one survey found 86 percent now accept it. Eventually, most of us will be more or less one race, and that may finally solve the integration problem.
Or so let’s hope.
Last week, I argued in favor of dissolving both Wayne County and Detroit, and combining them in one new government. My reasoning was that Detroit can’t possibly be financially viable, and that Wayne County is hopelessly corrupt.
For anyone who wasn’t convinced by my county corruption arguments — like if you slept through the Turkia Awada Mullin scandal or forgot about the county wasting $125 million on a jail that will never be finished — new evidence of how deep the corruption goes was on display last week.
Mike Duggan, as the world knows, won a stunning write-in victory in the Detroit mayoral primary at the start of this month. Nearly half of all the voters wrote in his name, the vast majority of them spelling it right.
Whatever you think of Duggan, this proved that the notion that Detroiters are unable to rise above racial politics is absolutely untrue.
However, true to form, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett managed to live down to expectations by bizarrely trying to throw out about 18,000 write-in votes — almost all of them for Duggan. Why? Because the election workers just wrote down vote totals without the pound sign (#) Garrett wanted on there.
That would have then somehow given Napoleon more votes than Duggan. It also turns out that Garrett’s brother, Al Garrett, the head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, is one of Benny Napoleon’s strongest supporters.
Yes, as the Prophet Leroy said, you just can’t make this stuff up. These shenanigans were too much for even the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, who refused to certify the results. So now the state will have to do it.
That will cost the taxpayers money. The hilarious thing is that none of this will change anything; either way, the runoff will be Napoleon vs. Duggan. But the state is getting involved for one big reason, according to Chris Thomas, longtime state elections director: Whether it changes anything or not, those 18,000 folks don’t deserve to have their votes thrown out.
Next year, when election time for county clerk comes, voters should remember what Cathy Garrett tried to do to them.
Wayne County and Detroit: dysfunctional entities, but with 1.8 million people and a lot of potential. The solution: Both need to combine their destinies and seek a new beginning under a new charter. It makes no sense to artificially pretend their economies and fortunes aren’t interwoven. The time to merge the core county and the state’s biggest city is here, and it will never be easier to do that than now.
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.