Toson Knight, dean of culture for East English Village High School.
The institution of slavery was a multi-trillion-dollar industry that laid the foundation for several economic factors that would lead to a massive chain reaction for African Americans. By today’s standards, the economic value for Black bodies would equal more than $42 trillion for the year 1860 alone. The 400-year-old institution was just the start of economic fulfillment at the expense of Black populations in the United States.
From slavery to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights era until now, the financial impact Blacks have in America hold true to the economic structure of today. Though African Americans generate and have the ability to hinder cash flow through the country, they continue to fight for economic freedoms and wealth in America.
Toson Knight, dean of culture at East English Village High School has witnessed the impact of America’s economics on Black students. Often at a disadvantage, Black schools, teachers and communities have fewer resources severely lessening their chance at obtaining wealth.
“With America and the way they’re making money, my biggest problem is that we need to see more of the money being poured into our communities; more of the money being poured into our education system, so that we can eventually benefit from it,” said Knight. “Of course they’re making the money off of us, but we’re not really benefiting.”
The Civil Rights Movement is, in many ways, synonymous with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and his dream. Leading one of the most recognizable boycotts in the country’s history, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. King along with his camp of supporters was able to cost the city of Montgomery approximately $3,000 dollars daily during the 13-month long boycott thus showing the buying power African Americans held at that time.
In 1964, with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial segregation across the country, it was thought African Americans would have access to a more tangible piece of the country’s economic structure, but this proved to be more societal and racial propaganda. In 1966, still fighting for Black economic inclusion, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned an article for The Nation, a weekly newspaper, in which he stated in part:
“Someone has been profiting from the low wages of Negroes. Depressed living standards for Negroes are a structural part of the economy. Certain industries are based upon the supply of low-wage, underskilled and immobile nonwhite labor.”
This sentiment still holds true today. Though progress has been made since the publishing of the article, African Americans continue to grapple with economic inclusion proven by the widening of the racial wealth gap.
“Overall, we are still lacking as it relates to our people being able to have access to wealth and we are also lacking as it relates to being able to set our people up where they’re able to get jobs and investments that will put them to a different level,” said Knight.
In the same article, Dr. King mentions, “Negroes are a structural part of the economy.” Demands for equal pay, access to education and racial equality were just some of the issues the Civil Rights Movement worked toward solving. Advancing economic opportunities was one of the goals for Dr. King. Though integration of schools happened in 1954, equal education continues to be a hot topic.
“Our educational system, and this is of course stemming back to the Civil Rights Movement, our educational system is poor. It’s not properly funded and therefore our kids are not getting the proper education and resources to be able to get good paying jobs,” said Knight.
More than 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Black communities continue to struggle to find their place in the American economy. Though responsible for much of the country’s financial success, Blacks see little of it in return leaving the question, are we closer to or further from King’s dream? As King said in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech:
“…America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.”
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