A former Georgia state senator says Americans can't rely on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. if they want to achieve full equality for all.
Civil rights activist Julian Bond took time on his 55th birthday to challenge a Lawrence audience.
During his keynote speech at the 10th annual Martin Luther King Jr. banquet, Bond noted that King and others didn't wait for someone else to step forward -- they took the actions that resulted in blacks getting the right to vote, gaining admittance to theaters and getting to ride in the front of city buses.
"In many ways we have become King-dependent, summoning his memory in lieu of action'' Bond told the crowd of about 400 Saturday night in the Kansas Union Ballroom at Kansas University. "Today we look for others to lead us. Yesterday we told the leaders what the people wanted them to do.''
Bond said that while changes such as the increase in numbers of blacks and other minorities involved in government are encouraging, daunting problems such as increasing crime and violence, the widening gulf between the American dream and the reality of American life, a failing infrastructure in America's cities and a lack of affordable health care still remain.
He said one of the the main challenges facing Americans involved in civil rights as the nation enters the 21st century is securing economic equality for all. He said the country's continuing economic disparity "stems from economic racism'' promoted in part by decisions made by presidential administrations in the 1980s.
He noted that because of those presidential decisions and policies, fewer young Americans were able to achieve the dream of owning their own homes, people were working longer hours for less pay and the amount of money placed in savings and investments is decreasing.
Bond also said that within that same time period, poverty among members of the minority community went up while the median incomes for minorities went down.
"The only points of light they saw was daylight coming through the cracks in their walls,'' he said.