Selma: Did Martin Luther King, Jr. love America?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Selma
Still from Selma-the-Movie

CARE TO READ MORE? Film reviewer Edward McNulty gave the movie “Selma” 5 out of 5 stars. Click the photo to read McNulty’s entire review.

This weekend begins the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma to Montgomery marches. I was just a kid then, but I remember the horrific images of Bloody Sunday—the 7th of March, 1965—when hundreds of marchers were stopped, beaten, and tear-gassed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by police and county posse. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the next two marches, the last one making it to Montgomery under federal protection.

All week we’ll discuss the marches and their effects, but today I want to ask this: Did MLK love America?

I raise this question in part because of recent claims that Obama doesn’t love America. It’s ironic that his patriotism has been called into question on the anniversary of the Selma marches. It began when former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said in a speech that the president “doesn’t love America.” Overall, about a third of all Americans (35%) say Obama doesn’t love America, according to a poll. Republicans are much more likely to say Obama doesn’t love America, while the vast majority of Democrats (85%) say he does.

So, what about Dr. King? Did he love America? The answer depends more on when you ask than who you ask.

In the 1960s, King was one of the most hated figures in America, according to public opinion polls at the time. “A number of survey items asked about King in the mid-sixties show him more reviled than revered,” wrote political scientist Sheldon Appleton in 1995. In fact, King was “one of the most disliked American figures in the age of public opinion polling.”

For example, consider the results from a survey technique called the scalometer. This technique presents a respondent with a 10-point scale ranging from +5 to -5. In 1966, 41% of Americans rated King -5. Almost seven of ten Americans (68%) gave negative ratings.

Twenty years later, a huge shift in public opinion took place. In 1987, 76% of Americans gave King a favorable rating. This favorable rating has held firm. In 2013, for example, a poll by Rasmussen Reports showed that 80% of Americans had a favorable view of the great civil rights leader. Almost half had a very favorable view.

I have no doubts that King loved America, and that Obama loves America. They were what I call “critical patriots” in my recent book United America. They see what America should be and can be—and want to the nation to live up to its ideals.

What’s your opinion of Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Did he love America?
Does the president?

Share this series with friends …

OurValues is designed to spark spirited, civil discussion. You’re free to print out these columns and use them in a class or small group. Or, simply talk about this on Facebook or Twitter.

Gender Inequality: Who’s the boss? Do you want the job?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Gender Inequality
CLICK this chart from the December 2013 Pew report on gender inequality to visit Pew's website and explore the entire report.

CLICK this chart from the December 2013 Pew report on gender inequality to visit Pew’s website and explore the entire report.

Are you the boss or top manager in your workplace? If not, who is: a woman or a man?

About 16% of men in the Pew Research Center’s new survey say they’re the boss or top manager, compared to 10% of women. Members of the Millennial generation (ages 18 to 34) are less likely to say they hold a top spot (about 4%), compared to Baby Boomers (17%) and Generation X (16%). None of these differences are surprising.

So, what is surprising?

What is surprising is that who is the boss correlates closely with aspirations to be the boss—but only when it comes to gender. In every generation—Millennial, Gen X, Boomer—more men than woman say they would like to be a boss or top manager someday.

Who is the boss does not correlate with aspirations to be the boss when it comes to race and ethnicity. About one-third of whites (36%) say that would like to be the boss or a top manager someday in the future. Sixty percent of blacks and the same percentage of Latinos say they would like to be the boss or a top manager. However,  only 16% of whites say they are the boss, while only 6% of blacks and 4% of Latinos say the same.

Aspirations to be the boss or top manager decline with age. Millennials have the highest aspirations, with 65% saying that want the top spot. Half of Generation X (50%) say the same. Only 26% of Baby Boomers have similar aspirations.

Who is the least likely to want to be the boss? White women, according to Pew. Only 29% say they aspire to a top position.

Are you surprised to learn that white women have the lowest career aspirations?

Or that aspirations and reality correlate when it comes to gender, but not when it comes to race and ethnicity?

King’s Dream: How well do blacks and whites get along?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series King's Dream
Pew research study 2013 How Well Do Racial and Ethnic Groups Get Along These Days

Click on the chart to visit the Pew website and download the entire 46-page report.

Respect for people of different races is one of the 10 core values that nearly all Americans hold dear. But: How well do blacks and whites actually get along?

This week, we’ve used the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to reflect on race relations since that time. We’ve considered Obama’s remarks about our unfinished business, racial differences in perceptions of fair treatment of blacks, assessments of how far we have come and how far we have to go, and black-white disparities in income, wealth and homeownership.

So far, it’s been a story of divides, differences, and difficulties among some areas of progress.

When it comes to respect, however, it’s a different story. A large majority of blacks (73%) say that whites and blacks get along very well (16%) or pretty well (57%), according to the Pew Research Center poll we’ve consulted all week. However, about one of four blacks say that whites and blacks don’t get along well.

Whites tend to see white-black relations in a similar way. About eight of ten whites (81%) say that whites and blacks get along well (12%) or pretty well (69%). About 16% say blacks and whites don’t get along well.

Another indicator of respect is acceptance of black-white marriage. Acceptance is at an all-time high, according to a Gallup poll. “Americans are approaching unanimity in their views of marriages between blacks and whites,” Gallup researchers say “with 86% now approving of such unions.” Whites and blacks similarly approve of marriage between blacks and whites. For example, 96% of blacks and 84% approve of black-white unions.

Of course there have been other positive trends and improvements as well. Pew’s FactTank has compiled several of them here.

Are you surprised by these trends in black-white relations?

What would you say is the area of greatest progress in achieving King’s dream of racial equality?

King’s Dream: Is it reality today? Look at these gaps …

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series King's Dream
This income comparison chart appears in the August 2013 Pew report, called "King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities." Click on the chart to visit the Pew page for this study.

This income comparison chart appears in the August 2013 Pew report, called “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities.” Click on the chart to visit the Pew website and download the entire 46-page report.

Dr. Wayne Baker returns today! His first column …

Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial. Other notables gave speeches that day, but King’s became famous here and around the world.

Some say King’s dream words are inscribed on the hearts of Americans. It is true that “I Have a Dream” is inscribed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the very spot where he spoke—but how much of King’s dream is reality today?

There are many answers to that question. We’ll consider several this week, so please check back Monday through Friday.

Where do we stand financially?

Today, we look at the issue of economic freedom—a major theme in King’s speech. King’s speech was part of the March on Washington, as it is typically called now. Its official title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, highlighting the twin themes of economic freedom and civil rights. The economic gulf between whites and blacks was wide 50 years ago.

QUESTION: How much do you think the financial gap has closed? A little? A lot?

ANSWER: Not at all, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. The median household income for blacks is $39,760, according to the latest U.S. Census data, while the figure for whites is $67,175. Put differently, the median household income of blacks today is 59% of the median household income for whites. In 1967, it was 55% of white household income. Since 1967, the black incomes have fluctuated between 54% to 65% of white incomes.

QUESTION: How about wealth?

ANSWER: Same story. The average net worth of a white household today is $91,405, while the wealth figure for black households is $6,446. Over time, the gap between white and black wealth has increased, says Pew.

QUESTION: How about home ownership?

ANSWER: This is one of the hallmarks of the American Dream. About three of four white households (73%) own their own homes. Among black households, the figure is 44%. The gap in home ownership has fluctuated over the years, but the rate of black home ownership is the same today as it was in 1976.

Of course, there have been some improvements, as we’ll consider this week. Today, however, the economic indicators tell a grim story—at least by these measures, King’s Dream is as far from reality today as it was 50 years ago.

Are you surprised by these comparisons?

How do you interpret them?


As the creator and main Our Values columnist through the years, I want to express my thanks to our guest authors this summer! I appreciate their contributions: Dmitri Barvinok, David Crumm, Rodney Curtis, Terry Gallagher, and Joe Grimm!

Immigration Reform: No more “illegal immigrants”?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Reforming Immigration Policy

End of Illegal Immigrant graphicImmigration reform now includes language reform!

This week, the Associated Press (AP) announced that the phrase “illegal immigrant” is no longer proper style for journalists following AP’s widely used style guide. How influential is that guide? More than 2 million copies have been sold since the guide was first developed in the 1950s. The guide—including its regular updates—is as influential among writers and editors as the Merriam-Webster dictionary. (That includes editors at ReadTheSpirit and OurValues, who consult both the AP guide and Webster’s.)

My questions today:
Are you glad to see “illegal immigrant” go?
Or, would you prefer to keep it?

The AP news is a timely cap for our week exploring immigration reform: We’ve discussed how most people think the current immigration system is broken and favor a path to citizenship, the ancient tradition of welcoming the stranger, the fact that America remains the Number One preferred destination for immigrants, and that each of us has a family immigration story. Today, we consider this new shift in language.

Here is what AP now says in its style manual:

illegal immigration: Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use “illegal” only to refer to an action, not a person: “illegal immigration,” but not “illegal immigrant.” Acceptable variations include “living in” or “entering a country illegally” or “without legal permission.”

To learn more about the perspectives of AP executives, here is a statement by Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. Of course, not everyone agrees with the change. Some politicians, like John McCain, have said that they will stick with “illegal immigrant.” Generally, Republicans have preferred the phrase. Some media commentators have taken issue, including Jay Leno who joked about the politically loaded nature of the change.

Today, I want to know your reaction:

Is abolishing “illegal immigrant” an improvement?

Do you prefer alternatives?

Does immigration reform require language reform?


Emancipation: Did Lincoln’s melancholy fuel greatness? THE COVER to visit the book’s Amazon page.ABRAHAM LINCOLN is known the world over, but not for his lifelong struggle with chronic depression—what was, in his day, called “melancholy.” How did his mental struggles play into his life’s work?

In his new Lincoln movie, Steven Spielberg clearly shows scenes in which Lincoln seems to struggle with the chronic melancholy that affected his life. But the film underplays the central role of clinical depression in Lincoln’s life and how he managed it. Melancholy was the key to his greatness, says Joshua Wolf Shenk in Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.

Lincoln’s bouts of depression were legendary among his confidants. These bouts were “just one thread in a curious fabric of behavior and thought that Lincoln’s friends and colleagues called his ‘melancholy’,” writes Shenk. “He often wept in public and recited maudlin poetry. He told jokes and stories at odd times—he needed the laughs, he said, for his survival. As a young man he talked of suicide.” His friends put him on a suicide watch, a rare reaction in those times. Melancholy was his companion throughout his life. “His law partner William Herndon said, ‘His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.’”

Lincoln was able to manage his struggle with depression by harnessing its energy for a high purpose. Indeed, the thought that he had a big role to play—however unclear it was at the time—gave him meaning and direction. The specific meaning of his life became clear. In 1854, Shenk writes, Lincoln entered the slavery debates “with a vigorous argument that slavery must be restricted as a moral, social, and political wrong.” This lead, eventually, to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.

Did you know about Lincoln’s struggle with chronic depression?

Do you buy Shenk’s argument that it fueled Lincoln’s greatness?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

Emancipation: How far away is real freedom? COMMEMORATE this month’s 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the U.S. Postal Service is issuing the Emancipation Proclamation Forever stamp. A key phrase from the Proclamation—“Henceforth Shall Be Free”—adorns the stamp. The stamp will help to raise awareness of this historic milestone on the path to freedom.

But how far away was real freedom?

The Proclamation was a first step; more was needed. The Proclamation itself didn’t free slaves everywhere, only in the rebel states. As such, it was a disappointment to abolitionists. But Lincoln himself clearly understood that the Proclamation itself “had a quite limited effect in freeing the slaves directly,” writes historian John Hope Franklin, and Lincoln rushed to abolish slavery by constitutional amendment. When this amendment—the 13th—was sent to Lincoln for signature, according to Franklin he said, “This amendment is a King’s cure for all the evils. It winds the whole thing up.”

The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery throughout the nation, but we know that this amendment (the first of the so-called Reconstruction amendments) wasn’t a King’s cure that wound the whole thing up. As Franklin writes, “…neither the Reconstruction amendments nor the legislation and executive orders of subsequent years had propelled African Americans much closer to real freedom and true equality. The physical violence, the wholesale disfranchisement, and the widespread degradation of blacks in every conceivable form merely demonstrated the resourcefulness and creativity of those white Americans who were determined to deny basic constitutional rights to their black brothers.”

Franklin expressed those words in 1993, on the occasions of the 130th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. A lot has changed since then.

Do Franklin’s words still ring true today?

If what ways have things gotten better—or worse?

Please, leave a Comment below.


Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.