The achievements of the modern civil rights movement were far reaching. African Americans won back the rights promised to them during Reconstruction—the vote, equal protection under the law, and the eradication of segregation. Today, people of African descent are a prominent part of the American landscape. Despite this, the economic and educational inequalities that originated in slavery and were perpetuated by decades of segregation continue to negatively affect black life and achievement. African Americans generally have higher poverty rates and lower school graduation rates, are targets of racial profiling, and are significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system, particularly the nation’s prisons. For many, the 2008 election of the first African American president was a watershed moment in race relations, like the Reconstruction period a century ago. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as America’s 44th president.
Throughout American history, activism in the black community has inspired other groups to fight for their civil liberties and their ideals of social justice—the women’s rights movement, the labor movement, and the current marriage equality and Occupy movements. Activism by these groups and many others has forced America to constantly re-examine its founding principles of “liberty and justice for all.”
The 150th anniversary of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is an important reminder that America is a work in progress. The actions of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. still serve as inspiration for the next generation of America’s leaders.