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On Martin Luther King Day: what impacted blacks more; OPEC or a sniper's bullet?

The impact from the assassination of Martin Luther King was great, however the OPEC oil embargo may have been just as devastating to civil rights.
The impact from the assassination of Martin Luther King was great, however the OPEC oil embargo may have been just as devastating to civil rights.

On the holiday set aside to honor Martin Luther King, there are two events that are looked upon that negatively impacted progress of the civil rights movement, a sniper’s bullet that cut down the life of Martin Luther King Jr. in his prime, and OPEC?

The assassination of King clearly removed a statesman that could communicate effectively beyond all racial lines and ideological barriers. King’s voice had acceptance and balance between the liberal, conservative, and radical lines that existed during the turbulent 1960s. When the life of King was ended by James Earl Ray, it brought a substantial moral vacuum to the conscience of the civil rights movement.

King’s values as a Baptist minister and prophet have been underestimated. Major newspapers criticized King for being against the Vietnam War and having views outside the boundaries of the civil rights movement. King chastised President Lyndon Johnson for committing black males to die with whites in Southeast Asia when segregation persisted in America.

The momentum for civil rights slowed considerably with Ray killing King in 1968 before King could fully deploy the anti-war sentiment, redirect efforts to eliminate poverty, and to challenge Washington to correct the class disparity that existed economically. King’s strategy would have benefited all of America regardless of color.

However when Egyptian jets flew over Israel in 1973 that launched the Yom Kippur War, America’s support for Israel would be punished by a group of oil producing nations that would dramatically change the economic landscape in the United States. For supporting Israel, OPEC nations led by Saudi Arabia cut oil imports and production of oil which severely crippled the American economy.

Oil was a minuscule $1.80 in 1970, but quickly ballooned to $34 a barrel by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Between 1973-1975 the gross national product (GNP) fell 6% and unemployment doubled. Businesses began shifting jobs overseas in an effort to secure cheap labor and escape the skyrocketing energy costs.

Long gas lines and rationing took place as a consequence from even and odd days to purchase gas. The feel good belief regarding the American economy was shattered and being held hostage by OPEC.

Although President Lyndon Johnson began implementing the focus on drug arrests around 1968, it was President Richard Nixon tenure where the term “war on drugs” was declared and popularized by the media in 1971. In an effort to giving the public what they wanted, police authorities in cities as Chicago began invading black neighborhoods making drug busts. Of the 6000 arrest made from 1972-1973, the majority were blacks. Convictions also documented that blacks were 10 times more likely to go to prison.

Inexpensive crack cocaine and the focus on arresting offenders decimated black communities and only continued to feed the fear of crime and violence associated with the influx of drugs. The stereotypes were reinforced by the media focus and public demand for arrests for crime that appeared out of control.

The worsening economic status of black families dramatically increased from 1960 where only 20% of black households had single mothers. By 1990 that number of household led by a single black mother rose to 50%. A black female was three times more likely to be coached to receive an abortion.

The OPEC embargo helped to create a perfect economic storm since fear and uncertainty drove the mindset of many people during the early 1970s. The impact to the psyche of America could well have persuaded the United States Supreme Court to pass the 1974 Milliken decision which struck down court ordered school integration.

White flight to the suburbs from the inner cities merely transferred racial disparity which undermined the 1954 historic Brown decision. Separate but equal was still an issue being perpetuated by the Milliken court decision. School segregation is just as prevalent today as it was during the South’s integration push of the 1960s.

The peripheral impact of the OPEC oil embargo could not have come at a worse time for black communities which suffered disproportionate harm as the result of the psychological and financial impact which took a toll on jobs, the educational infrastructure, and attitudes.

OPEC’s economic weapon of mass destruction did far more to negatively impact the march of the civil rights movement than a sniper’s bullet.

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