As the old century gave way to the new, it was hard to say whether African-Americans as a group were in a better or a worse situation than they had been a half-century earlier.
The civil rights movement had won integrated schools and transportation, voting rights, better job opportunities, and real political power. Consider the following benchmark statistic: When Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, fewer than 100 African-Americans held elective office in the United States; by 1990 there were more than 7,000.
On the other hand, despite these gains, there was a steadily enlarging sense of crisis and alienation in the urban areas where many African-Americans lived, a crisis that carried with it the kind of shocking statistics that reflected over a century of inequity in America's cities.
- In 1995, an incredible 70.4 percent of African-American babies were born out of wedlock; 35 years earlier, the figure had been 30 percent.
- As of this writing, it is reliably estimated that 33 percent of all African-American males over the age of 20 are in prison or possess criminal records.
- African-American infants are roughly twice as likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome as other infants.
- African-Americans are ludicrously over-represented in the ranks of the American homeless.
- The suicide rate for African-American teens is not only rising, but rising significantly faster than the rate for white teens.
Given these alarming social signals, it is not surprising that there is still a sense that much remains undone in the African-American community.