There are many open wounds in the African-American community that have not healed in the years since 1968. It is an open question how these challenges would have been dealt with in an America shaped by the coalition represented in 1968 by Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, rather than that of George Wallace and Richard M. Nixon. But it is, I think, a question well worth asking.
The country as a whole has moved sharply to the right in the decades following the deaths of King and Kennedy. The Republican party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, has, in that period, formed a new governing coalition, one that has been only intermittently challenged. The foundation of that coalition remains white voters in the South and Southwest who are quite capable of decoding the underlying ideas in speeches that are supposedly about “crime” and “education” and “traditional values,” but are actually about something very different.
In far too many of the federal, state, and local elections following the benchmark 1968 presidential contest, racial polarization became an essential electoral strategy. As the strategy became more formalized under Richard Nixon, three areas of racial inequality that had once been matters of deep national concern for people of all races in 1964 began to emerge as political vulnerabilities for the Democratic party. Whether the right's divisive (and successful) electoral strategy helped to cause these three social problems to worsen, or whether they would have worsened in any case, is hard to say. What is certain is that the Nixon legacy of strategic polarization and racial divisiveness has not yet solved the most pressing problems of the African-American community, and it seems highly unlikely to solve them in the future.
America is still waiting for a politician capable of building an enduring national consensus whose central organizing concept is something other than racial fear.
The First Challenge: The Family Unit
Disintegration of family structures in the African-American community has been a persistent problem for far too long.
High out-of-wedlock birth rates, absent fathers, and the lack of a family support network for many young African-Americans have led to serious problems in America's urban areas. The persistence of these crises have helped to perpetuate negative images of African-Americans, and have contributed to the increasing polarization of American social and political life along racial lines.