Wednesday 7 December 2016

Black America has come a long way – but the journey is far from over

Published 27/12/2012 | 17:00

When US President Barack Obama sat on the seat that black civil rights activist Rosa Parks had refused to give up to a white man in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, 57 years ago during the country's civil rights struggle, the symbolism of his act was clear to African-Americans.

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Parks's act of defiance on December 1, 1955, emboldened Martin Luther King and others and ultimately led to the end of racial segregation in the US. "Rosa sat, so Martin could walk, so Obama could run, so our children can fly," ran the text from one voter when Obama ran for the presidency in 2008. So it was right for the newly elected president to pay homage this month to Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, who, like Mr Obama himself, was partly of Irish descent.

But what is the reality like behind such symbolism? How far has the first black president in America brought his fellow blacks? The answer is as mixed as it is complex. The segregated buses, the separate schools, the separate drinking fountains are long gone, yet it is impossible not to be shocked by how separately blacks and whites still live out their lives today in many parts of America.

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