WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) today released the following statement in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 75th birthday:
“Today we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: a minister, a civil rights leader, a father, a Nobel Laureate. Dr. King led the fight to reform America’s ideas of equality and civil rights – and to forcefully dispel the notion that the American dream was only limited to Americans of a certain color or background.
“Dr. King understood the right to vote was invaluable to every American citizen. Without it, individuals truly have no voice in our nation’s government. He told us, ‘There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society, with a large segment of people in that society, who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that they have nothing to lose.’ But as we observe Dr. King’s birthday, we are acutely aware that, more than half a century later, the stake that he was talking about was more than the right to vote. He also was talking about the right that all Americans share – the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“Today we face a struggling economy that is not producing enough jobs, and it has imposed even greater hardships on minorities. Since March of 2000, black unemployment has soared to nearly 11 percent, almost double that of whites. And there is still a glaring wage gap confronting minorities in the workforce. Black men earned 73.9 percent of what white men earned in 2002, measured by median full-time wages and salaries. That's barely up from 73.4 percent a decade ago.
“In our health system, minorities still repeatedly receive inferior care. Last year's Institute of Medicine report found that health care delivery is very unequal depending on the race or ethnicity of those being served. That inequality is thought to be a major reason that African-Americans frequently have worse health outcomes than whites. The black infant mortality rate in fact remains twice as high as the white rate, and 20 percent of black Americans lack regular access to health care compared with less than 16 percent of whites.
“Without early and advanced education, individuals face a great handicap in this world. Yet in our school system today separate and unequal is still the reality in far too many places. Even in higher education, there exists a large gap between the percentage of whites with a college degree and the percentage of blacks.
“Dr. King knew that leadership was more than photo ops and eloquent rhetoric. He knew that leadership meant proposing and pushing education, health and economic policies that give every citizen an equal shot at the American dream. As Dr. King so eloquently said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
“Today we must redouble our commitment to the America envisioned by Dr. King nearly four decades ago. We have not yet reached the Promised Land, but it is up to us to ensure that America achieves the full measure of its promise.”