Reporting on the Road Ahead

The National Urban League has just released the 2024 edition of its signature publication The State of Black America, and this year the report centered on examining the 60th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. As the National Urban League says: “For Black America, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first time that the United States government addressed the racial caste system that had been protected for centuries by unjust laws and systemic brutality of nonwhite people in this country. The law, in many ways, answered the calls for jobs and freedom in the March on Washington by banning discrimination in the workplace, in our housing system, and programs funded by the government, and marked the death of the Jim Crow South.” But, they add, “Sixty years later, the fight for equality is far from over.”

They continue: “We have a Supreme Court that has dismantled Affirmative Action, threatening not only equitable access to higher education and the economic opportunities born from a college degree but also endangering diversity and equity initiatives that make our workplaces safer and more accessible for people from all backgrounds. We have states not only dictating who gets to vote in elections but also enforcing ID laws and requirements that make it harder for marginalized people to participate in the Democratic process. In Congress, extremist elected officials continue to hold our economy and our physical safety hostage by proposing the dismantling of federally funded safety net programs in exchange for the passage of critical spending bills that keep our government open and support our armed service members . . . It is not the time to be silent. We cannot stand by while this law is stripped of its power by those who oppose progress. This fight is one for our future, our legacy, and the soul of this country.”

The report goes on to evaluate progress and danger across a range of measures. Since 2005, the National Urban League has used an “Equality Index” to evaluate how well Black Americans are doing in comparison to white Americans in measures of health, economic status, education, social justice, and civic engagement. They study a wide range of data to score each of these categories individually before calculating a combined score, and this year’s Equality Index was 75.7%. In economics and health, scores were closer to full equality this year than they were in 2005, but in other areas the numbers are slipping in the wrong direction.

This year’s report also examines some of the recent and pending cases and legislation that threaten the Civil Rights Act, including the Supreme Court decisions in 303 Creative v. Elenis, which eroded protections of LGBTQ rights, and the case striking down race-conscious university admissions policies. We can’t afford to slide backwards—and we certainly can’t afford retrenchment towards the unequal and unjust systems the Civil Rights Act was meant to address. Essays by President Joe Biden, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, and many other civic and corporate leaders underscore the same message. 

As the 2024 election primary season continues, Americans are focusing on the real choices that lie ahead for their states and our nation. Reports like this one help paint a picture of where we are and where we need to be in order to achieve the full measures of equality every child and young person deserve. One of the tenets in the National Urban League’s framework for collective activism is to defend democracy—and this begins with the urgency of registering to vote. As they also say: Our freedoms are not free. Be sure you are doing your part to defend them!